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Tough Decisions and Community Support Key in Fighting EHV-1 Outbreak

The official death toll from the EHV-1 outbreak has risen to 17, with three more horses dying in Germany, two in Belgium, and one more horse dying in a Valencia equine hospital.

The FEI is following through with their promise of full transparency and improved communication as they navigate tough decisions needed to protect horses and control the spread.

International competitions in 12 European countries have been cancelled as confirmed cases are reported in ten nations; Belgium, Denmark, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland.

Read more about Equine Herpes virus here.

On Friday 18th March, FEI Veterinary Director, Dr Göran Åkerström explained the work achieved so far, the strategies and decision making processes that are being followed. His full message:

The recent outbreak of the neurological form of the Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1 neurological form) in Europe has tragically resulted in the death of a number of horses and there are many still being treated for this very aggressive strain of the virus. One death is one too many, and we must do everything in our power to stop the spread of this terrible virus.

 

When the FEI was first notified on 20 February, we set out to minimise transmission of EHV-1 by tracing and blocking all in-contact horses, but as the severity and the geographical spread of the outbreak became apparent, we took tougher measures and shut down all international events across all disciplines in mainland Europe for four weeks up until 28 March.

 

On 12 March, that lockdown of international events was extended to 11 April and the FEI has urged all member National Federations to follow suit with their national competitions and training events.
These were not decisions that we took lightly, and we are extremely grateful for all the support we have received from the community, especially as we are all aware of the ramifications this extended shutdown means for our sport, our members and stakeholders. The willingness of the community to accept and even welcome the prolonged lockdown is testimony to our collective dedication to the safety and welfare of our horses.

 

To date, we have blocked almost 4,000 horses on the FEI Database, meaning they must be kept in isolation, and a negative PCR test will need to be provided prior to them being unblocked and cleared for competition.

 

While EHV-1 is endemic in many countries, the current outbreak of the neurological form is the worst we have seen in decades, and it has clearly tested our biosecurity processes and our resilience. Nobody wants to see an outbreak like this ever again. And we will continue to monitor EHV-1 outbreaks through the FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group, composed of world-leading EHV specialists, members of the FEI Veterinary team and supported by the Chair of the FEI Veterinary Committee.

 

Communication is crucial when dealing with an outbreak, and we will keep the community informed on the Working Group findings with a weekly report and recommendations published on the dedicated FEI EHV-1 hub where we have been and continue to post all our latest updates and information.

 

It is also very important for us to receive all the correct information for our risk assessments and decisions. For this we need your support. By informing us of positive EHV-1 test results and sick horses you contribute to our combined efforts to ensure a safe return to competition on 12 April 2021. Please send us this information, including the positive PCR result to [email protected] I guarantee you and your horse anonymity.

 

We understand that the current situation is creating a lot of uncertainty and worry within our community. The current outbreak is still a problem and we must all be part of the solution. Each of our actions will reduce the severity and the duration of this outbreak and make possible a safe restart of competition.

 

There will be a comprehensive and fully transparent investigation into every aspect of this outbreak and the way it has been handled, and we will be putting in place enhanced protocols to allow a safe return to play once the virus is under control.

 

The response to this crisis has clearly reflected the true community spirit for which the equestrian world is renowned, and we have seen members of the community rally together and provide incredible levels of support. We must continue working together to keep our horses safe.

 

Yours sincerely,
Göran Åkerström, D.V.M.
FEI Veterinary Director

The letter was posted at the conclusion of the first meeting of the FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group, whose individual members have been working with the FEI since the start of the EHV-1 outbreak. They met to discuss the progress being made on identifying the genetic group of this virus, the evolution of the outbreak, return to competition protocols and preventive measures.

The Group is composed of leading EHV experts Professor Ann Cullinan (IRL), Dr Richard Newton (GBR) and Dr Gittan Gröndahl (SWE), the FEI Veterinary Director Dr Göran Åkerström and FEI Senior Veterinary Advisor Dr Caterina Termine, supported by Dr Jenny Hall, Chair of the FEI Veterinary Committee.

The Group discussed epidemiological links between events where positive cases have been reported, and further known transmission of the disease at horses’ home stables. The need for improved network tracing was identified, which would require the FEI being granted a greater jurisdiction at FEI events in the event of an EHV outbreak.

The Group noted that EHV is an endemic disease worldwide and is notifiable in only a few countries. Concern was raised that should the disease become notifiable in more countries it could lead to reduced reporting, meaning that outbreaks could become more difficult to manage.

Expected future risks

Regarding the evolution of the outbreak, the Group agreed that the following risk factors could be expected within the next two weeks:

Transport of horses (potentially causing raised stress levels) may result in further recurrence of the virus and more confirmed cases;

Circulation of active virus is expected to continue because this virus often moves more slowly through groups of horses compared to a virus such as Equine Influenza. Therefore, it may take some time for more recently infected groups of horses to be released from isolation.

Efforts must be focused on both preventing the incursion of virus positive horses at events and contingency planning to mitigate the impact of such an incursion, should it occur.

Resumption of Competition

The Group determined that safe resumption of competition involves two key areas: conditions for entry and the management of horses within the venue.

Recommendations include:

  • health certificates issued before the horse travels;
  • pre-movement testing;
  • enhanced examination on arrival;
  • restrictions on event size;
  • good separation between horses;
  • routine health monitoring.

Many rules are already in place to support these measures.

Laboratory analysis of samples

Several laboratories in Europe have analysed PCR positive samples from horses that returned from competitions in Spain. The virus identified does not have the N752D amino acid substitution in the DNA polymerase that has been shown in the past to be associated with neurological disease.

Work on identifying the clade or genetic group to which this virus belongs is ongoing and will assist in tracking the spread of the virus and differentiating it from many other strains of EHV-1 in circulation.

For up to date reports from the FEI, click here.

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