Deadly horse sickness detected in Western Cape

(This article was published in the Weekend Argus, a weekly newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, on April 9 2016.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Thousands of Western Cape horse owners have been told to lock up their horses, with an indefinite quarantine announced in the province to prevent a deadly horse disease from spreading.

The province’s economic opportunities minister Alan Winde said yesterday the quarantine has taken hold after a Paarl veterinarian detected a case of African Horse Sickness (AHS) in a horse this week.

“Samples collected from the colt tested positive for the AHS virus,” said Winde.

“We activated a routine surveillance programme immediately. Our vets are working in the area to determine whether any other animals on the property are affected.

“Movement restrictions are in place and no movement of horses is allowed into the containment zone without a movement permit from a state vet.”

The quarantine is in place for a 50km radius around Paarl and has led to the cancellation of various horse-related events planned for this weekend.

The discovery of AHS could also affect South African horse exports to the European Union, said state veterinarian Gary Burhmann yesterday.

Winde added: “We urge horse owners to stable their horses from two hours before sunset to two hours before dawn to minimise the risk of the vector (the Culicoides midge) having contact with their horses.

“In addition, we appeal to owners to use a registered insect repellent during the vector feeding periods.”

The quarantine is to spread as far as Gordon’s Bay, Riebeeck Kasteel, Malmesbury and a number of other areas, with horses prohibited from being transported along major highways such as the N7 and N2.

Burhmann said veterinarians have been dispatched to various horse farms.

“We are checking out horses (for AHS). This sickness is extremely virulent and fatal. Literally thousands of horses are affected,” said Burhmann.

“People don’t want their horse exposed. We export horses to the EU, so in order to export we have to notify them and take precautionary measures.”

Burhmann said “everything in a 50km radius (of the viral detection) becomes a no-go zone”.

“Horses can’t go off the property. We advise people that their horses must stay in their stables. If they can’t, we would recommend spraying them with insect repellant during the night,” he added.

Burhmann said the Culicoides midge was a “small insect that you can’t see with the eye” that bites an infected horse and transports the virus in that way to other horses.

“You can only see this insect under a microscope but they can cause so much damage. The virus stays in the midge for seven to 10 days,” he said.

“It’s like malaria, when a mosquito picks up malaria from one person and then transfers it to another.”

Burhmann said the virus could have been transported to the Western Cape via an infected horse from elsewhere. He said visible AHS symptoms in the horse include “swelling above the eyes and sounds from their lungs”.

A horse can die within hours of the symptoms being spotted, he added.

Horse event organisers yesterday said they were losing cash as a host of their weekend events have been cancelled.

Peter Roodman, who organised this weekend’s Western Cape Horse of the Year show in Paarl, said they heard about the quarantine at 1pm yesterday. Their first show event was meant to start two hours later.

“It’s a huge financial loss. You have to hire caterers and it’s everything that goes with it. I’m sitting with a lot of meat and 200 cheesecakes,” said Roodman.

“We had main sponsors flying down from Johannesburg and our judges were from out of town. They were at the airport when we told them we have cancelled.”

Roodman said participants had 160 horses entered into the competition and were traveling from across the province.

“We have to look at the animal’s welfare and people understand that,” he said.

“Most of the events have been shut down for the next 40 days. We will hold our event in June.”

Altus Hanekom, president of Western Cape Endurance which organises long-distance horse riding events, also cancelled their weekend races on the West Coast.

“We would have 65 participants for a 40km and 80km endurance ride,” said Hanekom.

“Everything has been cancelled as a precautionary measure. We are trying to minimise the movement of horses. We phoned guys who were on their way to turn back.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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