Vet notes

Less than 50% of the UK’s horse pop­u­la­tion is vac­ci­nated for flu — and even those that are in­oc­u­lated are sus­cep­ti­ble. Vet Ricky Farr MRCVS out­lines the risks

Your Horse (UK) - - Contents -

Why equine flu is still a big prob­lem

The con­di­tion

The equine in­fluenza (flu) virus is spe­cific to horses. Like hu­man flu, the virus at­tacks the up­per res­pi­ra­tory tract and causes a mul­ti­tude of symp­toms. Flu is en­demic in the UK, which means it is reg­u­larly found within the coun­try and it is not un­usual for new cases to be re­ported ev­ery few months. Flu oc­curs in un­vac­ci­nated horses or those with a lapsed vac­ci­na­tion sta­tus. Flu be­longs to the H7N7 and H3N8 sub­types, of which those cur­rently cir­cu­lat­ing are H3N8. We have data from 1963 that shows how the flu virus has de­vel­oped. How­ever, equine flu split into two dis­tinc­tive branches (types) in the 1980s: Amer­i­can and Euro­pean sub­lin­eages. The Amer­i­can branch has since split into two more clades and it’s these strains that are cur­rently cir­cu­lat­ing.


If you’ve ever had flu, you’ll know how poorly it makes you feel. Com­mon symp­toms in­clude: Raised tem­per­a­ture Lethargy Re­duced ap­petite Mus­cle sore­ness In­creased res­pi­ra­tory ef­fort Cough­ing Nasal dis­charge En­larged glands Sore eyes If you sus­pect your horse has flu, iso­late him, pre­vent­ing him from com­ing into con­tact with other an­i­mals. Call your vet. Biose­cu­rity pro­to­cols — iso­la­tion, yard clo­sure, di­ag­nos­tic tests on all in­di­vid­u­als sus­cep­ti­ble and prac­ti­cal ad­vice on keep­ing equip­ment and cloth­ing clean — will help prevent the spread.


If your vet sus­pects flu, a swab is taken from the horse’s nose to look for the flu virus. The process is quick and although it may look a lit­tle alarm­ing — your vet will poke a long swab up your horse’s nose — it is quick. Blood sam­ples may also be taken and tested to look for a change in the an­ti­body lev­els over a pe­riod of time. This can be ben­e­fi­cial in help­ing to make a di­ag­no­sis when there is a de­lay in sam­ples be­ing taken after show­ing clin­i­cal signs. Some horses may show no signs of flu, how­ever they are still able to carry the flu virus around and pass it on to other horses. Vac­ci­na­tion is not a 100% guar­an­tee but all cases of flu re­ported in the UK have been in un­vac­ci­nated in­di­vid­u­als. An out­break of flu will cost you — and pos­si­bly your yard or fel­low liv­ery own­ers — a lot more money, time and ef­fort com­pared to a sim­ple an­nual vac­ci­na­tion.

Cough­ing and in­creased res­pi­ra­tory ef­fort is a clin­i­cal sign of flu

Nasal dis­charge is a com­mon symp­tom of equine flu

Your vet will take a nasal swab to check for flu

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