Equine virus on the loose

The horse and horse-racing worlds are on red alert due to the spread to Greece of a serious infectious disease that attacks the respiratory system of horses and causes mares to go into premature labor. Knowledgeable sources spoke to Kathimerini of the potential threat to horse breeding since the vaccine against the disease is not available in this country, while they recommended that authorities be aware in view of the fact that both the racetrack and the horse-riding center will be accommodated at Markopoulo where the Olympic Games are to be held in 2004. Preventive measures Known as EVA, short for equine viral arteritis, the disease has reached epidemic proportions in many countries, with 65,000 mares aborting their foals in the USA alone. Many of these countries went on to take preventive measures. The disease is spread through contact with the nasal secretions of a sick animal. The worst phase lasts for about a week, during which the virus invades various organs of the respiratory and reproductive systems and is then released back into the environment through secretions by those organs two or three weeks after the appearance of the disease. Infected mares have increased chances of aborting their foals, and even if they do give birth, the foals’ chances of survival are slim. Nonetheless, after the disease peaks, the mares produce antibodies and will be rid of the virus in two or three weeks. By contrast, stallions have a 50 percent chance of the virus invading accessory sex glands, such as the prostate, and contaminating sperm, posing considerable dangers to breeding. The president of the Greek Association of Horse-owners, Nikos Papadopoulos, told Kathimerini that «the greatest danger is that there may be stallions which have been contaminated and which will then pass on the disease.» Although monitoring is still going on, a number of horses have tested positive for the disease – possessing the antibodies, which means they have come into contact with the virus. Veterinarian Aristides Omiros, of the Society of Horse-lovers (FE) which is responsible for checking for EVA, said: «On one stud farm, the percentage of [infected horses] is 70, on another, zero. In one of the racetrack stables, there was a high incidence of infection.» On January 17, the FE’s veterinary service notified the Agriculture Ministry and all relevant bodies and societies that it had assigned a research program of the Laboratory of Anatomy and Physiology at the Agriculture University, with the aim of carrying out laboratory checks on EVA at the racetrack and on stud farms. President of the Greek Society for the Protection of Horses Yiannis Servos stressed the need for infected horses to be placed in quarantine. According to Papadopoulos, it is essential that a special committee, composed both of vets and Olympics representatives, be formed to monitor the disease, «so that we can deal with the problem in time, and not have more trouble later on.»