The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to remove Saudi Arabia from the list of countries affected with African Horse Sickness (AHS). In a March 30 announcement, the Department stated that based on its evaluation of the health status of the country, Saudi Arabia is free of AHS. USDA has determined that the importation of horses, mules, zebras, and other equids from Saudi Arabia presents a low risk of introducing AHS into the U.S. The change, which applies to both temporary and permanent entry of horses, means that horses can enter the U.S. from Saudi Arabia without undergoing a 60-day quarantine period.
AHS is a highly contagious and deadly disease that affects horses, donkeys and mules and has a high mortality rate in naive horse populations like that in the U.S.
Under the prior rules, horses from Saudi Arabia, like horses from other countries affected with AHS, had to be quarantined for sixty days before entering the U.S. Horses from non-AHS countries may be admitted with a shorter quarantine period. The extended period is required to ensure that horses from AHS countries are not infected with AHS, which has a long incubation period.
In response to a 2009 request by Saudi Arabia to be recognized as free of AHS, USDA studied the status of the disease in that country. The USDA evaluation used information provided by Saudi Arabia and other sources. Based on its evaluation, USDA concluded that AHS was not known to be present in Saudi Arabia and that the likelihood of introducing AHS into the U.S. through imports of horses from that country was low. Last June, USDA proposed to change the federal import rules to remove Saudi Arabia from the list of countries affected by AHS and allow horses to be imported with a much shorter quarantine period.
The American Horse Council, and several other equine associations, opposed this proposed change maintaining that the potential benefits were not sufficient to offset the potential adverse consequences.
USDA disagreed, noting that it has been 25 years since a case of AHS was found in Saudi Arabia. USDA concluded that changing the import rules for horses from Saudi Arabia presented a low risk of introducing AHS into the U.S. To review the USDA decision and rationale, see http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-03-30/pdf/2015-07212.pdf.