Australia has put a cessation on imports of horses from Germany for 6 months. DEFRA has not at this time placed restrictions with reference to Glanders and Farcy a highly contagious wasting virus in horses.
Whilst the UK has been free from Glanders and Farcy since 1928 there has been an upsurge of the equine diseases,generally, in Germany has resulted in special quarantine and exportation regulations for global horse transport. It is because of these stricter measures that, recently, a case of Glanders was pick up during routine screening.
What is this disease and what are the ramifications this incident has on the international equine export and import market?
Equine veterinarian and European specialist of the College of Equine internal medicine Lidwien Verdegaal DVM reported the first ever case of Glanders to the Kuwait National Government when she was working in the country as an equine specialist says Sarah Warne for Eurodressage.
Typical signs of glanders are mainly divided in three forms: a cutaneous (skin) form, an (acute) nasal form and a pulmonary (respiratory) form. The horses show signs of skin nodules spread over the body and/or limbs which will eventually form abscesses or ulcerate with discharge. Horses often have mucopurulent (yellow/ greenish) nasal discharge and may cough. Horses may have chronic disease only showing signs of weight loss and an occasional cough or may not show any signs at all (similar to the recent case in Germany).
According to Lidwien what makes Glanders so dangerous is that it is a bacterial zoonotic disease which means it can be transferred from horses to people and cause severe disease in humans.
“Treatment and recovery of human Glanders disease may be difficult and it is currently still registered as a potential biological weapon,” he added.
Feeling that export but also import restrictions are necessary to prevent the spread of the disease, Lidwien advises that particular caution must be taken in chronic cases or a case which only carries the bacteria without showing any clinical signs.
“Carriers are the risk factors of spreading the disease. If we don’t test, we won’t know if they are carrying and spreading the bacteria and as glanders is a notifiable disease it needs to be reported to the National Government and World Organisation of Animal Health; following this procedure, unfortunately horses need to be humanely destroyed,” he explained.
Lidwien advises that prevention mainly involves import and export restrictions; countries won’t be able to export horses until all horses are tested free of the disease. Prevention within a country: transportation and strict biosecurity rules in relation to prevent contamination since bacteria survive in food, water, on equipment and tissues for about a month.
Informed that the Australian Biosecurity Department had issued a six month pause of horse export from Germany, the ban also includes frozen semen. Lidwien feels these measures are important to prevent a deadly spread!
“I think the recent case shows clearly the risk, it is still unknown how this horse got infected. There doesn’t seem to be a direct contact with an infected imported horse and the horse has not travelled. It was a healthy looking horse while carrying and potentially spreading the bacterial disease.”
Germany Loses Its “Glanders Free” Status
To get to the bottom of the question, one needs to find out if the Glanders case was confirmed or not. Dr. Mandy Elschner, Head of the Reference Laboratory for Glanders at the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health in Germany, was in charge of testing the horse in question.
“The affected horse was born in May 2008 and held in a horse population in the Federal State of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), Germany,” Mandy explained. “A blood sample has been taken for export purposes to a Third country to perform a routine test for glanders. The horse showed no clinical signs and has been kept separately from other horses during the pre-export quarantine. The complement fixation test showed a positive result (regional laboratory); the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI) OIE and National Reference Laboratory for Glanders) confirmed the result and revealed also a positive result with the immunoblot method. A second blood sample was taken and the results of this investigation confirmed the first results.”
However Mandy added that after the affected horse was euthanized for diagnostic purposes and the pathologically revealed no typical glanderous lesions.
“The bacteriological investigations of the organs showed negative results for Burkholderia mallei. The investigation of skin lesions with immunohistological methods showed doubtful results. Further investigation of scabs of skin samples showed positive PCR results,” she admitted.
The impact of this, according to Mandy, is that Germany has lost its status “free of Glanders” resulting in alteration of import conditions or import restriction for horses or horse products to other countries. However at present the infection with B. mallei has been resolved as of 27 January 2015, while epidemiological investigations are ongoing.
Australia Bans Horse Importation for Six Months
Australia has banned the importation of horses from Germany for a period of six month. The original statement read:“due to an outbreak of the contagious bacterial disease glanders in Germany, the Department of Agriculture in Australia has suspended the importation of horses from Germany for a minimum of six months (July 30, 2015).”
Kuwait, the first country to host the disease, has only just became free of the disease a few months ago. Lidwien says the outbreak carried on for approximately seven years and the country was closed for horse import and export for all those years!