The following commentary was provided by the Equine Disease Quarterly—funded by underwriters at Lloyd’s, London. The Equine Disease Quarterly is published by the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky. This commentary was authored by Katie Flynn, DVM, Deputy State Veterinarian, Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the awareness of the horse industry regarding the potential introduction and spread of foreign animal diseases (FAD). The human pandemic highlights the importance of early detection, laboratory utilization of high capacity, validated diagnostic testing, and coordinated implementation of a disease response plan. How would the national and international community respond to a pandemic of equine infectious disease?
The threat of an FAD entering the U.S. is a top concern of regulatory animal health officials. These officials are responsible for implementing mitigation measures to prevent introduction of a highly contagious or vector-borne disease agent. Risk reduction includes pre-import testing and post-import quarantine as well as testing of live animals and animal products to ensure that diseases with the potential to become widely disseminated do not enter the country. FAD may be introduced by an asymptomatic carrier, contaminated equipment, or an infected vector or reservoir host. Should an FAD enter the country, private practitioners and equine owners would provide critical surveillance and hopefully its early detection. Any individual suspecting an FAD should immediately report the case to a local regulatory authority.
Once reported, an FAD diagnostician will visit the premises within 24 hours of notification to perform an onsite investigation, examine affected animals, obtain appropriate samples for laboratory testing, quarantine the animals and/or premises, and implement disease control measures. If diagnostic testing at the Foreign Animal Disease Laboratory on Plum Island, New York, confirms an FAD, then regulatory officials will implement movement restrictions and disease eradication measures.
Unlike an outbreak of an endemic disease, such as strangles or equine influenza, all members of the equine industry across the country would be impacted by an FAD outbreak. Confirmation of an FAD results in activation of a national response plan with coordination of state and federal animal health officials. With detection of an FAD, countries can prohibit entry of equids from the affected country and domestic movement of horses is restricted. Restrictions may extend to equine affiliated entities such as nutritionists, farriers, equine dentists, and feed and hay suppliers.
The ultimate outcome following the introduction of an FAD depends on the response of regulatory officials in concert with the equine industry. Preparedness, prompt response, and collaboration are key to success. Unfortunately, domestic equine disease outbreaks in recent years have shown the equine industry is underprepared due mainly to limited implementation of biosecurity measures and insufficient use of diagnostic testing. Furthermore, limited resources at national and local levels to address equine disease issues result in the inability to focus on the development and training involved in a national equine FAD response plan. Lastly, segmentation of different sectors of the equine industry leads to challenges in communication and collaboration and slows the response to an FAD.
The equine industry has a unique opportunity to learn from the current human pandemic and enhance equine FAD preparedness and response. Equine stakeholders can reach out to local and national regulatory authorities to prioritize the development of an equine FAD response plan, which focuses on business continuity while protecting the health of the nation’s equine population.