When it comes to potentially deadly infectious diseases affecting horses, danger can lurk in even the most harmless-looking environment. Hendra virus, tetanus and strangles can all kill, while equine herpes virus can cause several serious diseases. Most of these diseases are highly contagious, which means that just one sick horse can spread infection to others, and there's no way to predict when or where your horse might come into contact with these diseases.
This article covers some of the major infectious diseases that can pose a threat to your horse's health, and importantly, it explains how you can help protect your horse by keeping his or her vaccinations up-to-date.
Carried by flying foxes (fruit bats), Hendra virus is a known killer of people and horses in Australia, and it’s spreading.1-3 Flying foxes can travel hundreds of kilometres in just a few days, so just because there are no colonies visible near your property doesn't mean your horses are safe. There's no cure for Hendra virus and all horses that contract the disease must be euthanased, but there is a vaccine available from your vet.
Learn more about helping protect against Hendra virus with Equivac HeV
Equivac HeV is not a registered chemical product and an application for registration has been submitted
Tetanus is caused by a highly toxic species of bacteria (called Clostridium tetani) that is found in manure and soil. Horses are known to be one of the most susceptible species for contracting tetanus. The organism can survive in the environment for long periods of time, but if it enters the horse's body through a wound (particularly puncture wounds), the bacteria rapidly multiply and produce a powerful nerve toxin that causes distressing symptoms and can be fatal. In fact, up to 80% of horses that contract tetanus will die or have to be euthanased to end their misery.4
Learn more about immunising your horse against tetanus with Equivac 2 in 1 (combined tetanus and strangles) or Equivac T
Strangles is a highly debilitating, potentially fatal respiratory disease caused by the organism Streptococcus equi. One of the distressing symptoms of strangles is swollen lymph nodes in the head and neck caused by the accumulation of pus, which makes it difficult for the horse to breathe (hence the name ‘strangles’). Symptoms can persist for days, weeks or even months, and horses may need to be isolated for 6-8 weeks. Strangles is extremely contagious and can spread easily from horse to horse, or by shared feed bins, water troughs, pastures and stalls contaminated by an infected horse.5,6
Learn more about vaccination against strangles with Equivac 2 in 1 (combined strangles and tetanus) or Equivac S
Equine herpes virus (EHV)
EHV is highly contagious and is easily spread from horse to horse or by contaminated clothing or equipment. The virus can attack the respiratory system, the nervous system, or cause abortion in mares. Infected horses may need to be isolated for up to 28 days. Even after a horse has recovered, the virus can reactivate if the horse is stressed and cause new symptoms or act as the source of a new outbreak.7
Learn more about vaccinating against equine herpes virus with Duvaxyn EHV-1,4
Why risk it?
Infectious diseases are not only distressing but can also put the life of your horse at risk. So a simple way to help safeguard your horse from the risks it faces in its environment is to keep up-to-date with vaccinations against these common threats.
Calculate your horse's risk
Our Health4Horses vaccination guidelines page (click here) has a useful tool to help you calculate the risk for your horse. Enter your horse’s age, sex and level of contact with other horses and you'll automatically receive a vaccination protocol specifically tailored to your horse.
You can also use the Health4Horses iPhone app to create a vaccination protocol which will also remind you when vaccinations are due. Download this free app from the App Store, by clicking here.
Talk to your vet today about vaccinations to help keep your horse safe
- Queensland Horse Council Inc. Fact Sheet: Hendra Virus, January 2012.
- Queensland Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Biosecurity News. Hendra Virus: Current Situation, 5 June 2012. http://bit.ly/MXq7T7
- Queensland Government Health Information Directory Topic: Hendra Virus infection, September 2011. http://bit.ly/rhEHqQ
- Hoare R. Horse health – vaccination against tetanus and strangles. PrimeFact 495, June 2007. NSW Department of Primary Industries. www.industry.nsw.gov.au
- Queensland Horse Council Inc. Strangles Fact Sheet, May 2010.
- Biosecurity NSW PrimeFact 648, Third Edition, May 2012. NSW Department of Industry and Investment. www.industry.nsw.gov.au
- Queensland Horse Council Inc. Equine Herpes Virus Fact Sheet. March 2009.