Quarantine is in place at Redwings Horse Sanctuary’s Hapton site in Norfolk after a horse tested positive for strangles.
Although the site is not a visitor centre, the charity, which is the biggest horse welfare charity in the UK, is asking people who may have cause to walk through or attend a meeting at their HQ, near Norwich, to adhere to strict restrictions.
Strangles is spread by direct contact with the disease or contaminated people or objects and is not airborne - therefore there is no risk of this particular bug getting to any local equines, provided all quarantine measures are followed.
Nic de Brauwere, NEWC Director and Head of Welfare and Behaviour at Redwings, said: “We routinely put precautionary quarantine in place on our farms when any equine shows possible signs of an infectious disease. Testing is done and typically we will stop quarantine when we can establish that the signs were due to another cause, relying on the laboratory results and the expertise of our vets to assess the case as it develops.
“We regularly deal with cases of strangles and other infectious diseases in new arrivals at our reception facility where the equines remain until they are disease free. It’s very unusual to find a case in a longer-term resident, but we approach it in exactly the same way to ensure we haven’t missed a disease getting through our net or finding a new way into the herd.
“On this occasion, a single field of ponies within one of our resident herds at our headquarters in Norfolk had been placed into precautionary quarantine and the pony we were concerned about then tested positive for strangles. The affected pony has been moved to our dedicated quarantine yard. No further cases have been identified but we have adopted an early and widespread quarantine to prevent direct spread from horse to horse, and indirectly via equipment and people.
“It is a very interesting case given it was found in an elderly resident who has been at Redwings for many years, and we haven’t been managing any other cases of strangles at either this site or our quarantine yard. Our initial diagnosis of a tooth abscess is also affecting the pony but strangles is also in the mix of bugs affecting his sinuses, so the approach of precautionary quarantine has rewarded us with being able to limit spread even before we knew what was wrong.
“The version of strangles we have identified is lacking certain key features that would typically be expected when one gets a positive test result, possibly reducing the risk of spread and severity of the disease. We are investigating this with interest and will share the lessons from this case to contribute to wider knowledge of the disease.
“We will maintain quarantine until we are assured that there are no cases on the farm. All fields in the quarantine areas have been taped off to members of the public, so it is important to adhere to the restrictions we’ve put in place.”
As well as leading Strangles Awareness Week during the first week of May, Redwings has campaigned to improve biosecurity procedures and tackle the stigma associated with the disease since 2018 and has recruited hundreds of horse owners, yard managers and equine professionals to their Stamp Out Strangles pledge which aims to incentivize better biosecurity before an outbreak happens.
Andie McPherson, Campaigns Manager at Redwings, said: “In light of this case we'd encourage horse owners to remember not to become complacent about strangles and to be prepared to respond to symptoms and signs of infectious disease until it can be ruled out. Protect horses by knowing your horse’s normal temperature and taking temperatures routinely so you are better placed to respond if a horse spikes a fever.
“One way to be prepared for strangles is to read our Stamp Our Strangles Pledge and make that simple commitment to good biosecurity best practices. Don't forget to get your yard involved next May to help promote disease prevention.”
Strangles is the most diagnosed equine infectious disease worldwide. Symptoms of the contagious respiratory illness range, but include a high fever, laboured breathing, difficulty eating, depression, thick nasal discharge and painful abscesses. In severe cases, Strangles can pose a risk to the horse’s life. There are complications in approximately 30% of cases and it is impossible to know which horses will require extra care and treatment. For the cost of a thermometer and spotting fever, owners can minimise scale and spread.
Please visit Redwings’ website to make your pledge to good biosecurity practices and find out more about Strangles: redwings.org.uk/strangles