What is equine influenza?
This is an acute respiratory disease syndrome that spreads rapidly through groups of horses. Although many horses are infected, very few die from this disease. The incidence of equine influenza is world-wide.
What is the cause of equine influenza?
This disease is caused by any one of a group of related viruses. There are at least two different viruses within this group known to be responsible for equine influenza.
How is equine influenza spread?
This disease is spread chiefly by inhalation of infective material. A cough accompanies influenza infections, aiding its spread in situations where horses are concentrated.
What are the signs of the disease?
Equine influenza can vary from a mild, almost unnoticeable disease to a severe one. Factors influencing the severity of the infection include age of the horse, general physical condition of the horse and specific type of virus present. However, equine influenza is rarely fatal except in very young or very old horses.
After a short incubation period the onset of this disease is sudden. A fever, usually ranging from 101-106 F, is the first sign. The fever commonly lasts for about three days. One of the major signs of influenza is the characteristic cough. It begins as a dry, hacking cough soon after the onset of fever. Within a few days the cough becomes moist and less frequent and, as a general rule, persists for several weeks. Depending upon the severity of the disease, other signs which may be present include a watery nasal discharge, weakness, stiffness, loss of appetite, and depression. The actual illness normally lasts from two to seven days. Influenza alone is a relatively mild disease. Most serious problems associated with equine influenza stem from secondary complications. Naturally, the viral respiratory infection leaves the horse in a weakened state. This is particularly true of very young horses in which bacterial pneumonia is sometimes a fatal complication. Other complications possible in horses of all ages include secondary bacterial infections, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and emphysema.
Can equine influenza be easily diagnosed?
Because equine influenza closely resembles other respiratory diseases, such as viral rhinopneumonitis and viral arteritis, a veterinarian will use laboratory examination to conclusively diagnose equine influenza. Nasal discharges and blood samples are submitted to a laboratory for analysis.
What is the treatment for equine influenza?
Sensible nursing is extremely important because influenza responds poorly to most forms of treatment. The horse should be rested until the cough completely subsides to promote and aid healing of the respiratory epithelium. This may require from three weeks to several months, depending upon the severity of the infection and the healing ability of the individual horse. Complications are best prevented by providing clean, well-ventilated quarters in addition to restricting exercise. It is advisable to consult a veterinarian, especially concerning protection of very young horses that may be highly susceptible to secondary bacterial infections. He may prescribe antibiotic therapy as a preventive measure.
There is an influenza vaccine which affords protection against both viral types. This should be used, upon veterinary recommendation, in situations where horses are kept in concentrated numbers and influenza is likely to be a problem.
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