Equine flu: BHA in "early early stages of assessing the scale and severity of outbreak"

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Thu 7 Feb 2019

The British Horseracing Authority on Thursday morning said it was unclear when racing in Britain would resume after three cases of equine flu were revealed on Wednesday night.

Racing's rulers have said they are in the in the early stages of "assessing the scale and severity of the outbreak" and that test results would not be known until this evening, when the fate of meetings on Friday and over the weekend will be decided.

Bangor, Kempton, Newcastle and Southwell are sheduled to race, while Saturday's action includes a glittering meeting at Newbury where many Cheltenham Festival aspirants - including Gold Cup winner Native River - are on course to run.

Jamie Osborne reveals more about the equine flu outbreak to Nick Luck

The 600-word statement from the BHA read: "Racing was shut down today as a precautionary measure to restrict the movement of thoroughbred race horses and prevent any further spread of the virus.

"This is a standard contingency in the event of an infectious disease affecting our horses. It was essential that racing be stood down today and controls on movements of horses be put in place in order to attempt to control the spread of the disease, and the decision was taken swiftly last night that this course of action should be taken, once the extent of the issue was known.

"The BHA consulted with its veterinary committee before making this decision."

The whole sport is now effectively holding its breath, hoping the stable affected is a one-off and that the disease can be contained.

"We will endeavour to issue regular information but we are still in the early stages of assessing the scale and severity of the outbreak," the statement continued.

"We are working quickly to identify the extent of the infection and will have more information when further test results are returned today. The results from those tests will not be known until this evening.

"Following these results being known a call will be convened to discuss the implications and a decision will then be made as to the impact on racing in the coming days."

It added: "We are aware that people want to know the situation as regards racing tomorrow and this weekend and we will seek to provide more clarity as soon as we are able. It is likely that any definitive decisions on whether racing can take place tomorrow will be taken later this evening."

It was about 11.30pm on Wednesday that the BHA sent out a press release announcing that the four British fixtures had been cancelled.

The BHA pulled the plug after being informed by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) of three confirmed cases of equine flu from vaccinated horses in what it described as "an active racing yard".

It did not name the stable in question but did so, unwittingly, because Donald McCain, based in Cheshire, was the only trainer to have runners at both Ayr and Ludlow.

"We are contacting trainers of all yards which might conceivably have had contact with horses from the affected yard in order to advise them on biosecurity measures and to ask them not to move horses," the BHA said.

"We are also issuing guidance to the wider population of trainers. We are working closely with the National Trainers Federation to share this information and ensure that trainers are kept as informed as possible. Trainers are being sent a contact number should they have further questions, and they are advised to contact their vets with any further concerns.

"Anyone visiting a racing yard should exercise appropriate caution and check with a trainer before visiting, and trainers are advised to limit where possible the movement of people to and from their yard. There is a Code of Practice for dealing with infectious diseases on the website of the National Trainers Federation."

All British racehorses are vaccinated against equine flu but this strain has affected vaccinated horses.

The disease may be serious in unvaccinated horses, although symptoms in vaccinated horses are usually mild and transient. Symptoms may include a raised temperature, a cough and nasal discharge. Humans are not at risk from the virus though can be transmitters of the virus.

In Australia, in 2007, thousands of horses were infected with equine flu in Australia after four stallions from Japan arrived on their shores soon after an outbreak of the disease in their native country.

The BHA has sought to dispel any notion that similar could ever occur.

"The situation here is not the same as the incident in Australia in 2007," the BHA said. "Australian thoroughbreds are not vaccinated against influenza, while British thoroughbreds are, as the virus is endemic in the UK. Therefore an important barrier is in place to prevent the same situation occurring here.

"However, as we have seen in Europe, the virus has affected vaccinated horses in this case. The vaccine should however help reduce to a certain extent the effect and spread of the disease in thoroughbreds.

"This is a wider horse health issue which is not confined to horseracing. Unlike thoroughbreds, the wider horse population in Britain is not vaccinated against equine flu.

"Whilst the BHA is not specifically responsible for non-race-horses, the general advice to owners would be to contact your vet if you have concerns."

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