Could an outbreak of equine flu ruin the Queen’s racing plans?

The royal family, and the Queen in particular, are known for their passion for horses and horse racing.

The monarch has bred and kept horses throughout her life, and owns many horses who have run in some of the world’s biggest race meetings.

So she may be concerned to hear of the news today that eight horses who had been vaccinated against equine flu have been diagnosed with the condition in the latest outbreaks recorded in the UK.

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As a result, horse racing meetings scheduled to take place on Thursday have all been called off. Four fixtures, in Chelmsford, Huntingdon, Doncaster and Ffos Las, Wales were cancelled. And it’s likely to be a concern for the equine world, in anticipation of the hugely popular Cheltenham Festival, which is meant to start next month.

The Animal Health Trust (AHT) confirmed two separate outbreaks of flu in Suffolk on 4 February. One horse affected six unvaccinated non-thoroughbreds but the other, which the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) described as “of particular significance”, involved eight two-year-old thoroughbreds who had been vaccinated.

Virus isolation and sequencing analysis is currently underway at the AHT and details “will be made available soon”.
The AHT is urging horse owners to be vigilant for signs of flu, including harsh, dry coughing, nasal discharge, lethargy and an increase in temperature.

“These clinical signs may be mild and not all horses will present with all of these,” an AHT spokesman said. “If a horse owner is concerned they should consult their vet as soon as possible who can take a swab and blood sample and send it for testing, free of charge, to the AHT’s equine influenza surveillance scheme which is funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board.”

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Equine flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the equine influenza virus, which is spread via respiratory droplets, direct contact, coughing and indirect contact if appropriate biosecurity measures are not taken.

“The virus relies on this transmission to new horses to survive and one of the most notable features of flu is the very quick spread of clinical signs in groups of horses and its ability to spread large distances in the air,” the spokesman said.

“Therefore horse owners are encouraged to consider existing biosecurity arrangements in their yards. This includes ensuring they practise good general hygiene and isolating any horses showing flu-like signs. The AHT is also recommending horse owners re-vaccinate their horses if their vaccinations were carried out over six months ago, to maximise the chance of protective immunity.”

It’s likely to be a worrying issue close to the Queen’s heart, as she owns many horses, and has made attending UK racing meetings a fixture of her annual calendar. The monarch goes to Royal Ascot every year, so we’re sure she’s hoping the outbreak is resolved before then.

FROM: Horse & Hound. Written by Eleanor Jones.

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