Did you know that in the past few months there have been infectious and contagious diseases reported throughout North America? Those include cases of EEE in Florida; strangles in Michigan; West Nile virus in Iowa; EIA in multiple states and Canadian provinces; vesicular stomatitis in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado; neurologic herpesvirus in Pennsylvania and Canada; and influenza in Florida and South Dakota.
A case of West Nile virus or strangles in another state might seem insignificant unless you have clients with horses living in or traveling to that region. Therefore, having access to reliable, accurate information about confirmed disease cases, in real time, is significant for every veterinarian, horse owner and equine professional.
“Information is critical to the successful treatment of diseases and to help curtail infections by allowing people to control it before it spreads,” said Nathaniel White II, DVM, MS, DACVS, Professor Emeritus of Equine Surgery at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center at Virginia Tech.
Disease recognition, containment and prevention are vital to the general health and well-being of horses and to the economic vitality of the equine industry. The American Horse Council acknowledges that, noting, “The horse community is just one step from a calamity, and that calamity is a disease outbreak of such proportion as to widely imperil the health of our horses and threaten the economic viability of our industry.”
The most significant challenge in containing and preventing the spread of diseases is communication. Information about disease outbreaks and confirmed cases in the equine industry has been difficult to coordinate nationwide, often coming too slowly. The Equine Disease Communication Center is determined to change that.
Following the equine herpesvirus (EHV-1) and equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy (EHM) outbreaks at a cutting horse event in Ogden, Utah, held April 29 to May 8, 2011, White, then an officer of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), and his colleagues began working to develop a centralized hub of information. Their intent was to launch a resource for the equine community that is similar to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for humans.
“Our goal was to create an alert system that encourages communication between state health officials, veterinarians and horse owners,” he explained.
The AAEP, the American Horse Council and the National and State Animal Health officials began collaborating to create a National Equine Health Plan (NEHP or National Plan). When finished, the NEHP will outline the issues surrounding the prevention, diagnosis and control of diseases, as well as the responsibilities and roles of the industry, federal and state authorities.
At the outset, the group recognized that a centralized communication center for information about disease outbreaks, prevention and containment was a key component.
In January 2015, the Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC) website equinediseasecc.org was launched. Since then, White has combed the internet and forged relationships with state veterinarians for information to populate the website.
In January 2016, the EDCC hires a full-time Communications Manager to take on the responsibilities of communicating with state veterinarians, searching the internet and social media for announcements and sending out alerts of confirmed cases of disease.
More Than Disease Outbreak Notification
The EDCC is more than a notification center for disease outbreaks. The site provides a comprehensive list of equine infectious diseases, including domestic and foreign diseases. Each disease link leads to a detailed listing that offers a scientific description of the disease, as well as information about how it is spread, diagnosed and treated.
The site also includes a compilation of resources related to biosecurity and preventative measures that can be helpful in preventing the spread of diseases at small farms, boarding stables and competitive facilities. The archives include information pertaining to disinfection, movement, events, quarantines, risk assessments and more.
In addition, visitors to the site can find AAEP vaccine guidelines, contact information for state veterinary offices across the country and an explanation of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS is the governmental organization tasked with protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health.
“We want the EDCC to be the source for information relating to equine infectious diseases,” White said.
The Economic Impact
Besides the obvious threat to the health of horses and the possible spread of contagious diseases, the risk of disease outbreaks carries significant economic implications for the industry.
Past disease outbreaks have been costly. The 2007 Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center EHM outbreak contributed to nearly $750,000 in lost hospital revenue and expenses. Estimated losses for a three-state area totaled nearly $2 million. The most widely known outbreak, the 2011 Ogden, Utah, EHM outbreak, forced show organizers to cancel 148 horse shows in California alone.
The confirmed EHV-1 cases during 2013 at the Florida HITS event presented significant obstacles to the containment of the disease. With more than 300 acres, multiple entrances and ride-in trails, restricting movement in and out of the grounds was challenging. Had the disease not been mitigated, a larger outbreak could have cost the Ocala region more $50 million in lost revenue.
“Information is critical to the successful treatment of diseases,” White concluded. “Our goal is to make the EDCC the primary and essential source for veterinarians and horse owners to get information in real time to help curtail and mitigate infections by allowing people to control the disease before it spreads.”
Donations and sponsorships from all areas of the equine community have offered financial support for the EDCC. Donations can be mailed or made online to: AAEP Foundation c/o Equine Disease Communication Center 4075 Iron Works Parkway Lexington, KY 40511
You can donate online at www.aaepfoundation.org. Click on “donate,” then click on “Type of Gift: Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC).
The original article on the EDCC was published in EquiManagement magazine in 2016.