Internationally renowned Thai equine vet Dr Siraya Chunekamrai is calling forurgent help to to contain a lethal outbreak of African Horse Sickness (AHS)that has already killed 500 horses in Thailand and has the potential to killthousands more.
Dr Chunekamrai, Chair of the the Lampang Pony Welfare Foundation, and VicePresident of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, is treating manyaffected animals and leading urgent vaccination efforts by equine veterinaryvolunteers in the country. She has also launched an international fund-raisingappeal to support the purchase of essentials, including vector protection netsto protect horses from midges of the genus Culicoides that spread thedisease.
AHS is listed as a notifiable disease by the World Organisation for AnimalHealth (OIE) because of its severity and the risk of rapid global spread.Horses have no natural immunity with treatment options limited to rest,isolation, palliative care and euthanasia. Disease spread can be limited bykeeping horses in stables behind fine insect netting, but even the tiniestgaps between the netting and stable walls have to be filled with sealant inorder to stop the insects squeezing through. Netting and stables are alsorequired to be sprayed with pyrethroid insecticide.
The Lampang Pony Welfare Foundation works to improve the welfare of ponies andhorses in Thailand and is focussing its efforts on managing the outbreak ofAHS in the central area of the country, which has been particularly hard hit.Many Thai ponies, an ancient breed in danger of extinction, are beingaffected, together with cross-breed horses. As these horses are essential totheir underprivileged owners’ livelihoods, the effects of the AHS outbreak onthe human population, already struggling with financial hardship because ofthe COVID-19 pandemic, are potentially disastrous.
According to Dr Chunekamrai, a key challenge facing her team lies in educatingowners that mosquito netting does not protect horses as the vectors are sosmall and can get through it. Fine insect netting purchased with funds fromher appeal will be used to protect the horses of those who depend on theirhorses but who cannot afford or do not realize the need for finer netting.Once the need for nets and vector protection is met, any remaining funds willbe used for feed and other essentials in the care of the ponies.
She explained: “This outbreak is particularly deadly with horses dyingquickly. They present with acute signs and with both cardiac and pulmonaryforms. Clinical signs include fever, depression, conjunctivitis, swellingabove the eyes and lips and dyspnea. The mortality rate is very high at around95%.”
She said that vaccines are not being administered to horses until they haveundergone polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and serology testing to ensure thatonly uninfected animals are vaccinated. In the meantime, horses are placedbehind effective netting and microchipped so that they can be easilyidentified later for vaccination. Containment efforts are also underway tostop the virus from spreading inside and outside of Thailand.
Dr Chunekamrai added: “This is a welfare disaster for hundreds, possiblythousands of horses in Thailand. It is equally disastrous for their owners,many of whom depend on them for their livelihood. Despite the restrictions inplace because of the COVID-19 pandemic, veterinarians across the country areworking tirelessly to reduce the suffering of horses in Thailand and to helpowners to protect their animals. We are determined to control the disease andregain our country-freedom from AHS status.
“There is much work to be done before we achieve our goal, however, and we aredesperate for funds to help us buy netting, insecticides, feed and otheressentials to help poorer Thai people to protect their horses from thisdreadful disease. We would be grateful for any donations to support our workat this difficult and heart-breaking time. Donations can be made here:https://www.lampangponywelfare.org/special-giving
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