Nebraska outbreak of rare horse disease puts Missouri horse owners on alert

Jun 25, 2013

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Missouri horse owners are on alert for signs of a rare horse disease after an outbreak in 12 horses in Nebraska earlier this month.

Equine infectious anemia, or EIA, is a viral disease spread by biting insects and the sharing of medical needles between horses. While the virus is related to HIV in humans, EIA can only be contracted by horses, donkeys, and mules.

Dr. Phillip Johnson is a professor of equine medicine and surgery at the University of Missouri. He says the most common outcome for an infected horse in North America is euthanasia.

Dr. Johnson said despite two cases of EIA in north east Missouri in 2011, horses in Missouri are currently at a low risk for contracting the disease: “… Based on my knowledge of test outcomes for this disease for Missouri horses in the last several years it hasn't cropped up very often. That's not to say we shouldn't be vigilant for it,” Dr. Johnson said.

The symptoms for the disease include fever, anemia, weight loss, swelling under the belly, and a loss of appetite.

President of Missouri Horse Shows Association Janet Thompson says requiring proof of a negative blood test for EIA before a horse may enter a show is one of several disease prevention strategies used by the association.

Others include requiring health certificates from veterinarians and cancelling an event if there is a nearby outbreak. Thompson says no horse shows have been cancelled in Missouri due to the recent EIA outbreak.

“It’s what we do all the time…whether it’s equine infectious anemia, whether it’s west Nile, whether it’s whatever disease that’s going around, that we monitor the situation and keep our exhibitors abreast of what is going on.” Thompson said.

According to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, the 12-horse outbreak was contained June 19, 2013 but will be continually monitored for the next few months.