Guelph, ON April 18, 2019 - Researchers at the University of Guelph are leading the way in equine research again, this time with studies looking at tools that may help predict disease spread in horse populations. The studies were published in early January. In the first study, researchers looked at using small, non-invasive radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, placed under vet wrap on each horse’s halter, to collect data on which horses came into contact with one another on horse farms. In the second study, researchers used data collected with the RFID tags to help create and compare contact networks (see explanation below) at horse facilities in Ontario.
Scientists use contact networks to help understand how a disease might spread in a population. To understand what a contact network is, picture a big map with different dots. Each dot represents a person. When one person comes into contact with another person, a line is drawn to connect them. So, if Kathy met Laura for coffee, there would be a line between Kathy and Laura’s dots. There would also be lines connecting Kathy’s dot and Laura’s dot with the people they interacted with while they went for coffee, like the cashier at the coffee place. It’s like a scientific “connect the dots,” where the lines you draw are based on who comes into contact with who. Now try picturing this for your horse. What lines would you draw between your horse and others at your facility?
Rachael Milwid, a former Ontario Veterinary College PhD student and the lead author of the studies, comments on several important findings from the work: “Groups of horses that are turned out together had the most contact with one another, which was to be expected; however, the data also suggests that even horses that are not turned out together or that are not neighbours in the barn actually have significant contact with one another over the course of each day. These results imply that in the case of a disease outbreak, extra care should be taken to keep the horses separate to prevent the disease from spreading throughout the entire farm.”
To learn more about how the researchers used the RFID tags and other results from the studies, read the articles Validation of modified radio-frequency identification tag firmware and Comparison of the dynamic networks of four equine boarding and training facilities. The authors of the studies are Rachael M. Milwid, Terri L. O’Sullivan, Zvonimir Poljak, Marek Laskowski, and Amy L. Greer. The work was supported by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Canada Research Chairs Program, and the Ontario Veterinary College.
Find out what you can do to prevent disease spread at your facility with Equine Guelph’s Biosecurity course.
Photo: Photo: iStock/Virgonira