We are often asked by horse owners why it is necessary for a veterinarian to administer vaccinations to their horses
and why it can’t be done by the trainer or yard manager instead, thus saving themselves a call-out and vaccination fee,
for annual vaccinations.
Vaccination is essential in protecting horses from infectious and contagious diseases and involves the injection of bacteria
or viruses, which are inactivated or modified to avoid causing actual disease, to build immunity in the horse.
Two or more doses are usually needed to initiate an adequate immune response to a particular disease.
Once the immunization procedure is completed, the protective antibodies in the blood stand guard against the invasion of specific diseases.
Over time, however, these antibodies gradually decline. Therefore, a booster shot is needed at fairly regular intervals. Protection against some diseases such as tetanus and rabies can be accomplished by boosting once a year. Others require more frequent intervals to provide adequate protection.
Why the need to vaccinate?
Vaccinations place a protective barrier between the horse and a whole list of problems, the most relevant in our South African
Equine Flu, African Horse Sickness, Tetanus, Equine Herpes, Strangles and Rabies.
Just as in humans, vaccination does not guarantee 100% protection. In some situations immunization may decrease the severity
of disease but not prevent it completely. This is due to many reasons such as differences in the type or severity of some diseases
(such as influenza) and mutations of strains.
Many vaccines require special handling and storage for efficacy. For instance, a particular vaccine may require protection from extremes of temperature or exposure to light to preserve its effectiveness. This is where you can rely on your licensed vet to store and handle the vaccine properly and to make sure that the vaccine has not passed its expiration date.
Vaccination and competition
FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) and NHRA (National Horse Racing Authority) regulations stipulate that all horses be vaccinated against equine flu and horse sickness. Failure to vaccinate and have the vaccinations properly recorded and signed off by a vet in the horse’s passport will mean a horse cannot compete or race.
In terms of the National Horse Racing Authority (NHRA) rules, the directive for compulsory vaccination of horses is as follows:
All HORSES and all FOALS shall be vaccinated against African Horse Sickness and Equine Influenza by a veterinary surgeon, using a registered, non-expired vaccine according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, in accordance with the programme of vaccination as published from time to time in the RACING CALENDAR. Such vaccine shall be supplied by the Veterinarian administering the vaccine.
The OWNER, the TRAINER and/or any other PERSON responsible for the care, treatment or training of a HORSE which is required to be vaccinated in accordance with RULE 39.1 shall be individually and jointly responsible for ensuring that such HORSE is so vaccinated.
The OWNER, the TRAINER and/or any other PERSON responsible for the care, treatment or training of a HORSE which is required to be vaccinated in terms of RULE 39.1 shall be guilty of an offence if such HORSE is not vaccinated as prescribed.
Influenza is one of the most common respiratory diseases in the equine. The virus is highly contagious and can be spread from equine to equine over distances as far as 30 yards by snorting or coughing, through saliva and mucuos. The risk of influenza is higher for young horses than older horses but is usually not fatal.
Symptoms are similar to those in a human with a cold, i.e., dry cough, nasal discharge, fever, depression, and loss of appetite.
With proper care, most equines recover in about 10 days. Some, however, may show symptoms for weeks, especially if put back in to work too soon. Influenza is not only expensive to treat, but results in a lot of “down time” and indirect financial loss, not to mention discomfort to your horse.
Unfortunately, influenza viruses constantly change in an effort to bypass the horse’s immune defence. Therefore, duration of protection is short-lived and revaccination is recommended. Since the virus can mutate frequently, vaccinations should contain the most recent strains. Animals that travel or are exposed to other equines should be regularly immunized against influenza.
The virus has an almost perfect rate of infection in an unvaccinated horse population, which is why it spread with terrific success across New South Wales and Queensland, and effectively crippled the Australian Equine Industry in 2007.
More than 100,000 horses contracted the virus, 47,000 at the height of the epidemic, and the economic consequences were ruinous. It was the most costly animal-disease emergency in Australian history.
In order to race and compete at shows, all horses need to have had the primary course of vaccination, followed by boosters not exceeding 6 months and 21 days, as per the NHRA:
All HORSES and all FOALS shall be vaccinated by a PERSON or veterinary surgeon against Equine Influenza both in accordance with the programme of vaccinations and with a non-expired vaccine from the recommended list as determined by the NATIONAL BOARD and as published from time to time in the RACING CALENDAR; provided that only a veterinary surgeon shall supply and administer the vaccine to all HORSES trained by, or under the care, or in the stable of a TRAINER.
Any HORSE or FOAL not vaccinated in accordance with RULE 39.7.1 will be required to be re-vaccinated according to the vaccination programme provided for in RULE 39.7.1
EQUINE INFLUENZA VACCINATION PROGRAMME
1. Acting in terms of Rule 39.7.1., the NATIONAL BOARD has issued the following directive in respect of the compulsory vaccination of HORSES:
2. FOALS shall be given a primary course of vaccinations consisting of 2 vaccinations, administered between 4 and 6 weeks apart, both to be given after the age of 6 months but before 31 July of the year following its birth. Both vaccinations must be the same vaccine from the same manufacturer. Subsequent vaccinations must be given at intervals not exceeding 6 months.
3.All HORSES on training or spelling establishments shall be vaccinated at intervals not exceeding 6 months.
4. All registered stallions and mares standing on stud farms shall be vaccinated at intervals not exceeding 12 months.
5. Notwithstanding 1. to 4. above, a licenced veterinarian in the employ of the NHA may, in his sole discretion, allow a 21 day extension of the 6 month interval as defined in 2. and 3. above.
FEI rules for Vaccines – Administration and Certification:
2 vaccinations given 4 – 6 weeks apart, with a first booster within 7 months of the 2nd vaccination of the primary course, thereafter at 6 month intervals and in order to compete must have been vaccinated within the 6 months+21 day period and not within 7 days after receiving a vaccination.
• All proprietary equine influenza vaccines are acceptable to the FEI, irrespective of the route of administration;
• All vaccines must be administered by a veterinarian;
• The vaccination should be administered according to the manufacturer’s instructions (ie intramuscular injection or intranasal);
• The details of the vaccine, serial/batch number, the date and route of administration must be recorded in the FEI passport;
African Horse Sickness
Horse Sickness is caused by different serotypes of the virus, borne by the Culicoides midge and is most prevalent in late summer and autumn. It is potentially life threatening and it is up to us as horse owners to vaccinate our horses responsibly and help to grow a national horse population that is largely protected by stronger immunity.
The vaccine is sold as two separate injections, each consisting of different strains of the virus. The first vaccination must be given at least three weeks before the second one. The vaccination is provided as a freeze-dried powder, activated by mixing with sterile diluent.
In terms of the National Horse Racing Authority (NHRA) rules, the directive for compulsory vaccination of horses states that all horses outside of the Western Cape protected zone shall be vaccinated against African Horse Sickness by a veterinarian, using a registered, non-expired, polyvalent horse sickness vaccine according to the manufacturers’ recommendations :-
Two times as FOALS between the ages of 6 and 18 months, not less than 90 days apart and, where possible, between 1 June and 31 October, and thereafter every year between 1 June and 31 October.
All registered stallions and mares, standing on stud farms, except within the Western Cape protected zone, shall be vaccinated against African Horse Sickness by a Veterinarian, using a registered, non-expired, polyvalent horse sickness vaccine according to the manufacturers’ recommendations, at least once every calendar year and where possible, between 1 June and 31 October.
A strict African Horse Sickness control policy has been created by the Western Cape government to control the vaccination and movement of horses into and within the AHS Controlled Area. The regulations regarding the requirements to move horses, boundaries of the zones, entry/exit points between the zones, and a map of the zones can be found on the website: http://www.elsenburg.com/. The website also contains the information on current movement bans, and lifting of the direct movement bans.
Horses moving in and out of this area need to follow the protocols for correct vaccination and movement needs to be applied for and approved by the local state vet.
Movement controls apply to all horses (except un-weaned foals at foot accompanied by their dams) moving from the AHS infected Zone into the Western Cape Province and within the Western Cape Province from the AHS Protected Zone entering the AHS Surveillance Zone and the AHS Free Area.
The horse must be registered and must be accompanied by its Passport in which the vaccination details have been entered.
Vaccinations must be performed by a veterinarian, all particulars entered in the passport; and the veterinarian must affix his/her practice stamp, sign the document(s) and include his/her qualifications.
Each horse must be accompanied by the Health Certificate for movement, which becomes part of the passport, duly completed and signed by your veterinarian not more than 48 hours prior to traveling.
This health certificate will certify, inter alia, that the horse was vaccinated against AHS by a veterinarian at least 40 days and not more than 24 months prior to traveling and also that the horse has not been in contact during the past 15 days with other Equidae suffering from an infectious or contagious disease.
The veterinarian must pre-notify the State Veterinarian Boland by fax (021 808 5125) of the intended movement by completing in full, the Pre-Notification of Horse Movement form.
The same vaccination schedule and passport recording policy applies for the cross-border movement of horses. The import permit from the state vet of the importing country sets out the exact requirements of that country, in terms of tests required before movement is approved but Horse Sickness and Flu vaccination records must be signed by a vet in the official passport.
Horse Sickness and Equine Flu are the two currently compulsory vaccinations required annually in South Africa, for horses that are travelling and competing but Tetanus, Rabies, Strangles and Equine Herpes Virus are also important to keep up to date in order to keep your horses healthy.
Tetanus is caused by toxin-producing bacteria present in the intestinal tract of many animals and found in abundance in the soil where horses live.
More than 80 percent of affected horses die but fortunately, this disease is not contagious.
Horses are particularly susceptible to the paralyzing toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani in a wound.
All horses should be immunized annually against tetanus. Additional boosters for mares and foals are recommended, following primary vaccination of 2 vaccines 4 -6 weeks apart.
Fortunately many of the Flu vaccines also contain a tetanus vaccine, allowing one to provide two vaccines in one.
Equine Herpes Virus (Rhinopneumonitis)
The NHRA does not feel at this stage that it is necessary to regulate the administration of the vaccine. An investigation in to the prevalence and causes of respiratory problems in young racehorses is being undertaken. Should this research give them reason to change their approach, they will revisit the possibility of compulsory vaccination. At this point the onus is on the Trainer and his vet to implement all the vaccination and management techniques pertinent to their circumstances, to help control this disease. Owners should be aware that vaccination against Equine Herpes virus is a far cheaper “insurance policy” than having to treat their young horses when they get sick. However, there are no guarantees and the immunity provided is short-lived and requires frequent vaccination to maintain.
Pregnant mares should be vaccinated during the 5th, 7th and 9th months of gestation using an inactivated EFV1 vaccine, licensed for the prevention of abortion.
This upper respiratory disease caused by Streptococcus equi is highly contagious.
The strangles vaccine is not a routine part of the vaccination program unless there is a problem with strangles in the area. This is due to a high risk of local reaction and other side effects with the injectable vaccine. The vaccine does not provide long-term immunity, and it should not be given with other shots.
Foals may be vaccinated at 2-3 months with a booster 2-3 weeks later.
Foals may be vaccinated at 4 months of age with a booster 3-4 weeks later. The rabies shot is given in two initial doses four weeks apart followed by yearly boosters.
Vaccination of pregnant mares is not recommended as safety studies have not been performed.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns regarding your horses and their vaccinations, please contact the clinic and discuss it with one of our vets.
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