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Horse Racing: Britain could face outbreak of African Horse Sickness.

Byline: Amy Bennett

THE Horse Trust, Britain's largest benefactor of equine welfare and research, yesterday warned that the deadly African Horse Sickness could be poised to strike Britain, with potentially devastating effects on the racing and breeding industries, writes Amy Bennett.

The warning comes amid reports that a leading Newmarket trainer has had to turn down the chance to welcome a leading South African-trained horse because of concerns over the killer virus that causes the disease.

James Wood, director of the Cambridge Veterinary School's infectious diseases consortium, and Professor Philip Mellor, head of the Department of Arbovirology at the Pirbright Laboratory, joined with the Horse Trust yesterday in outlining the potential impact of AHS in Britain.

With a 90 per cent mortality rate in affected animals, AHS is a notifiable disease in Europe, with the same status as foot and mouth, and ultimate responsibility for control of an outbreak falls to Defra.

Spread by biting midges rather than by contact between horses, the disease causes fatal lesions, affecting the respiratory and circulatory systems. At present no vaccine is available in Europe, and a policy of movement restriction and, potentially, slaughter of infected animals would have to be relied on.

Infection zones of 20km with a further 100km surveillance zones would be placed around all infected properties, and the movement of horses within those zones forbidden until the site had been disease-free for as long as two years.

Paul Jepson, chief executive and resident veterinary surgeon of the Horse Trust, said: "AHS is related to Bluetongue, a disease in cattle and sheep, and is spread by the same species of midge. Recent changes in climate and midge populations in Europe have resulted in the rapid and extensive spread of Bluetongue virus."

While urging horse owners not to panic, Jepson called for vigilance.

The Horse Trust will spearhead an education campaign to make owners aware of the possibility of an AHS strike and the likely symptoms.

At the same time the trust is calling on the government to support research into the prevention and control of the disease, as well as assessing the impact on Britain's pounds 4 billion equine industry.

The last occurrence of the disease in Europe was an outbreak in Spain and Portugal from 1987 to 1991, which led to the death of thousands of horses.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 27, 2007
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