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Horses & Coronavirus

by Tim Kirby Veterinary Surgeon

Horses & Coronavirus

There is currently no evidence to suggest that the Coronavirus can be transmitted from humans to pets and that companion animals can spread it. Reports from close to the epicentre in Hong Kong have confirmed this.

Did Coronavirus originate in animals?

The Coronaviruses can affect animals, however there are several strains only isolated in animals. In total, seven strains have been known to cross to humans. In 2002, SARS-CoV – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – jumped from Civet cats to humans in China and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – MERS – was transmitted from Dromedary Camels to humans in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. Both MERS and SARS are far more serious than Coronavirus or Covid-19. There may be other Coronaviruses currently in the animal population that have not been genetically identified, and could they transfer? Right now, the transfer route from man to animal is the highest concern, and we have not seen any evidence of this.

The source of the current outbreak has been linked directly to what is a called a ‘wet market’ in Wuhan area of China. This market sells both dead and live animals including fish and birds. Hygiene standards are very limited as live animals are being kept, slaughtered and butchered on-site, where all species and types are present in close proximity. The original source is thought to have been bats which infected live chickens sold at the market. Bats were also the species responsible for Ebola and other diseases including HIV and rabies. Scientists studying the viruses’ genetic code have almost certainly linked Covid-19 to bats in this instance, and there are no grounds for supporting claims that the virus escaped from a research laboratory.

The world-famous Cheltenham Festival took centre stage last week amidst a public storm of frenzy and outcry. Whilst most social organisations and forums were locking down, attendances at Cheltenham were swelling! The Aintree Gran National which is a spectacle for national hunt enthusiasts, has already been cancelled by the BHA (British Horse Racing Authority). It was supposed to be staged in April, and will not happen in 2020. Recently, e]racing has been staged in Ireland and UAE where the events took place behind closed doors, and no public attendance was/is allowed. There logic is to minimise human transmission, and maintain social distancing which is being encouraged by all governments.

Could my horse infect me?

Coronaviruses have been circulation in animals populations scion as dogs, cats, battle and horses for many years. Ion most cases, the animal viral load when significant causes respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and upper respiratory tract distress. In severe cases, should the lower respiratory tract become infected, symptoms such as clinical pneumonia can become evident.

Leading global veterinary scientists and virologists do not suspect that COVID-19 can pass from animals to humans. Coronavirus (animal strains) already exist in animal populations, therefore we do not believe that any direct human infection is possible. Similarly, the human strain of the virus is unlikely to affect animals in any way, and no known such cases exist. The 17 year old dog in Hong Kong was ( and still is perfectly healthy) and had a trace amount of weak genetic material identified from it’s nasal passages.

Could I vaccinate my horse against Covid-19?

There are currently no vaccines available for Covid-19 in either the human or animal population and the World Health Organisation envisages it will take between a year to eighteen months to create a human vaccine. Corvid-19 has already mutated which makes it much more difficult to create an effective vaccine. Most recent news suggests that clinical trials of the vaccine in humans is progressing well.

Take veterinary advice

Always speak with your vet for the latest information about protecting your horse, and we advise that the influenza virus is much more concern to horse owners and sporting protocols have all changed their requirement with regard to competition horses depending on the discipline. There are possible complications looming from the Equine Herpes Virus so this also a situation to watch. Ongoing changes in Ireland should be monitored on the Turf Club’s website and in the UK follow the Animal Health Trust advise. By ensuring that your horse is well fed and it’s vaccinations are unto date is the priority for all horse owners right now.

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