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Vets Still In Dark As Virus Claims 13th Cape Horse

15 years ago

15th April, 2007 00h00

South Africa - Equine veterinarians are still uncertain what exactly is killing horses in the province. The death toll has now climbed to 13. There has been a blanket ban on the movement of horses, while races at Kenilworth have been put on hold pending lab results from the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute in Pretoria, which are expected this week. There is uncertainty at this stage as to whether the deaths are from African Horse Sickness (AHS) or a virulent strain of equine encephalosis, of which very little is known. Cape horse trainer Glen Kotzen has lost four horses at his stables in Agter Paarl and deaths have been reported as far afield as Morningstar and Klein Dassenberg. Kotzen says it is "scary" how quickly the disease spreads. He believes that the outbreak could have started at one of the horse shows or sales held in late February and March at Sandringham Farm in Muldersvlei near GrandWest, where horses from all over the country congregate and yearling sales are held. Kotzen said midges which transmit African Horse Sickness are at their peak in March and April. "If one horse had been harbouring the virus and was taken back to stables, it could have sparked the outbreak." He said midges could easily fly 40km and infect horses in other areas. Kotzen said industry players should consider holding shows and sales earlier, in January or February, when it was dry and less humid. The ban on the movement of horses has been a financial blow for the Western Cape's multimillion-rand racing and racehorse export industry. Several events have had to be cancelled and a number of foreign owners who planned to send their horses to compete in the Cape have changed their minds. Wendy Clarke, who runs the Sunrise Farm Spelling & Pre-training Centre in Klein Dassenberg, lost a horse this week, as did her vet who lives nearby. Clarke said they had been spraying their horses with repellent to keep the midges away every morning and afternoon when the insects were most active. The deputy director of animal health for the province, Pieter Koen, said the virus could be a strain of equine encephalosis. He said there were seven types and not all of them had been identified. There was also no clarity as to whether the illness was even caused by midges, he said. "It is some kind of insect that jumps up to 10km, but it could be a mosquito or a biting fly. We just don't know yet." Koen added there was no vaccine for equine encephalosis, whereas there was one for AHS. He said lab results were expected on Tuesday. Last November the European Union lifted its suspension of horse exports from South Africa following an AHS outbreak in 2004.

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