Has your horse had his flu vaccination? Vet Katherine Murray explains more about this incredibly contagious disease and why vaccination is so important
Many of us have our horses vaccinated against flu every year, but there are some circumstances where owners wonder whether their horse really needs vaccinating – for example, if he’s retired and never leaves the yard. However, if flu strikes, it can spread like wildfire, not only making horses sick, but also having a huge impact on the equine industry as a whole.
If your horse were to catch flu, it could make him very poorly and take him up to six months to recover, plus it leaves him open to developing nasty secondary infections that could extend his recovery time dramatically, so ensuring all horses are vaccinated against this devastating disease is of the utmost importance.
Equine influenza (flu) is a highly contagious, infectious respiratory disease. It’s caused by a virus that’s inhaled via the nostrils, where it invades the lining of the upper airway. This causes inflammation of the upper airway, which consists of the larynx (voice box), trachea (windpipe) and the bronchi (passageways into the lungs). The virus destroys the cells that make up the lining of the airway, which reduces the ability of the airway to clear mucus and debris. Bacteria then has the chance to multiply and invade the tissue, causing secondary infections.
Vaccination is by far the best way to protect your horse against flu. It not only protects him, but also the population of horses across the UK via herd immunity. Herd immunity occurs when vaccination of a significant proportion of a herd provides a level of protection for individuals who haven’t been exposed to the virus. This is because there are fewer individuals that can be infected, so the disease dies out quickly.
Horses who are vaccinated can still get infected with the flu virus and have the potential to pass it on to unvaccinated horses. Therefore, it’s advisable to vaccinate all horses against influenza, including companion ponies and older horses, even if they never leave the yard.
Don’t leave it to chance
There are around one million horses in the UK and recent figures suggest that only 50% of these are vaccinated. To achieve herd immunity against equine flu, at least 75% of the national herd needs to be vaccinated. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your horse doesn’t need to be vaccinated – get him booked in, not only to protect him, but his equine friends, too.
For more information on spotting flu and what to do in the event of an outbreak, get your copy of January Horse&Rider here, on sale 17 November.