VET’S DIARY: Equine flu leads to more demand for jabs

It’s been very busy at Fairmoor Equine Clinic recently.

By Ewan Macaulay, Alnorthumbria Vets
Sunday, 24 February, 2019, 11:03
Equine flu

The recent influenza outbreaks have led to an increased demand for flu vaccinations among our clients. This has been both to re-start horses whose vaccinations have lapsed, and to give a booster to those whose last vaccination was greater than six months ago.

The outbreaks also led to a period in which horse racing in the UK was stopped. Luckily (at least at the time of writing), racing has resumed for horses that have been vaccinated within the last six months and for which the trainer has declared no signs of flu.

Flu is rarely a fatal disease for horses. Affected horses show signs similar to people affected with flu. These include a nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, inappetence, pyrexia (fever) and enlargement of the lymph nodes (‘glands’) around the head.

Influenza in horses can be detected by carrying out a nasopharyngeal swab (pictured), or using a blood test – a combination of these may be used.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Much like in humans, flu vaccination is important to increase the ‘herd immunity’, as well as to increase the immune response of each individual to the virus. Both of these factors decrease the likelihood of an individual being exposed to the virus, and subsequently infected. If infection does occur, the signs should be less severe.

Similarly to the human influenza virus, the equine influenza virus can change over time, sometimes becoming more dissimilar to the strains commonly used in vaccines – this is the reason for the regularly updated human flu vaccine.

However, luckily for all our horses, we know that vaccination with any flu vaccine provides cross-protection to emerging strains, meaning that horses will still mount an immune response to these strains.