Proposed National Strategy for EIA Control
The CFIA Wants to Hear From You
By Margaret Evans
Equine infectious anemia (EIA) is a potentially fatal viral disease that affects all members of the equine family – horses, ponies, donkeys, mules, and zebras.
The disease, which is also known as swamp fever, is worldwide and was first detected in Canada in Manitoba in 1881. It is transmitted almost exclusively through blood or blood products, and infected equines are the source of all new infections.
Symptoms may include anorexia and weight loss, depression, weakness, intermittent fever up to 41 degrees C, jaundice, small hemorrhages under the tongue and the eye, and swelling of the extremities. Sometimes a loss of co-ordination may be the only sign.
The EIA virus is a relative of the human AIDS virus. Clinical signs may give an indication of EIA but a Coggins blood test is needed to properly confirm the diagnosis.
While EIA poses no threat to people it is catastrophic for equines. It is essentially untreatable. There is no vaccine and no cure. Animals remain carriers of the virus for life and they inadvertently transmit it to other animals through the movement of large biting insects such as horse flies or deer flies looking for a blood meal. EIA can be transmitted through the semen of an infected stallion and a foal can be infected before birth. It can also be transmitted through contaminated needles or blood transfusions.
The virus has the ability to mutate and evade the host’s immune response. A horse may appear to recover from an infection only to have the symptoms return.
Options for management are euthanasia or a permanent and secure form of quarantine. Extreme isolation for a herd animal brings its own level of stress and anxiety. Owners need to look realistically at the quality of life of the contained, isolated horse and whether it is an appropriate fit for the stricken animal.
EIA is monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and it is a reportable disease under the federal Health of Animals Act. Currently, their monitoring program has two components. The first is for horse owners to voluntarily pay to have their horses checked. The second is a CFIA mandated response when a horse is diagnosed. It may enforce a level of quarantine, order euthanization (in which case there is compensation for the owner) and order testing of other horses that may have been exposed including those of the owner, the neighbour’s horses, and other horses the infected one may have come in contact with within the past 30 days.
But the program has challenges. Testing and reduction of positive cases has been successful in eastern Canada but less so in western Canada. That is because there are many more untested and unmonitored populations of horses in the west (including wild or semi-wild herds) that could be suspected reservoirs of the virus. Therefore, the risk of horses being infected with EIA is higher in western Canada (i.e., west of the Manitoba/Ontario border) than east of that boundary.
CFIA is proposing changes and in February the agency released its report Proposed Risk Management Strategy for EIA Control in Canada. It is seeking feedback from stakeholders in the equine industry on its suggested game plan.
To protect horses in eastern Canada and to step up the monitoring and control of disease in horses in the west, the agency is proposing that Canada west of the Manitoba/Ontario border be designated a primary geographical zone for EIA and that an EIA testing requirement for all horses moving east across the interprovincial border be implemented.
According to their report, the reason for selecting this point in Canada is based on the relatively high number of EIA cases that have been identified in British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Alberta, and Saskatchewan as well as the logistics of travelling from western to eastern Canada. There is only one principle road which crosses the Manitoba/Ontario border and this site has been used as a data collection point for livestock shipments in the past. The report said that the logistics of putting a primary zone and movement controls in place will require significant development and assistance from stakeholders.
“In recent years we are not aware of any positive tested equine east of the Manitoba/Ontario border,” said Bill desBarres, chair, Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada. “However, we are aware (there is) evidence that (the number of) positive tested horses located west of that border is increasing in number and geographic locations each year. The market demand for horses from west to east is steadily increasing. Are we prepared to depend on the integrity of venders, custodians, or transporters to protect our Canadian herd from coast to coast to coast, or should the industry become more involved with government to preserve the health and integrity of our Canadian herd?”
The CFIA is proposing that Canada west of the Manitoba/Ontario border be designated a primary geographical zone for EIA and that an EIA testing requirement for all horses moving east across the interprovincial border be implemented. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
According to desBarres, the most critical issues are, l) a lack of animal and premise identification, traceability, and provisions for tracking and reporting; and 2) the fact that the standards for testing, proof, and effective removal of risk are not mandated consistently across Canada.
There is clearly a need for the national horse industry to get up to speed with the dangers of this untreatable disease and owners need to be proactive as to the state of their animals’ heath and the risks involved when travelling. In today’s equine trade and competitive climate, horses are on the move in all directions and with them should be proof of health.
“Eastern Canada and all access/ports of entry to Canada have proven that mandated EIA testing is a strong deterrent, (an incentive for an) educational process and a mandate for participation/access,” said desBarres. “Coggins tests in Canada are considered current for six months. In some other parts of the world, these same tests are only current for 30 days. We are aware that blood drawn is only a truly accurate test of the horse’s condition at the time of drawing the blood. With respect to movement or travel of horses within Canada, there is no requirement at this time to provide evidence of negative EIA tests. (But) there are some hosts, venues, competitions, markets, or places of holding that require evidence of a negative test to enter or attend competitions or facilities.”
By addressing the greater concern for western based horses and supporting a mandated observation and management of EIA as a national strategy, the health of the Canadian herd as a whole will be strengthened. It will encourage everyone to practice required standards and the need for disclosure when moving, selling, or co-mingling horses.
“This implementation brings a measure of accountability and credibility to the table in terms of claims, best practices, health and welfare, as well as credibility for the domestic and export markets,” said desBarres. “It is important that industry strive to achieve better management with good fences but that will take time. The industry will be responsible to reduce risk and stimulate teachable opportunities to the entire chain of horse custodians, co-mingling sites, and management providers.”
CFIA is looking for feedback from horse owners, riders, facility and competition operators, and anyone with a stake in the equine industry. In summary, their proposal aims to protect Canada’s horses with a national approach based on movement controls through testing requirements for horses moving from west to east, identification of co-mingling sites in western Canada, stakeholder collaboration in identification and data collection, and animal ID and traceability.
While CFIA identifies western Canada as a region of concern, desBarres said that all of Canada is at risk.
“The migration of horses for all purposes is becoming a coast to coast to coast matter, and the mitigation of transmission is unrealistic on all fronts unless drastic measures are required and an aggressive identification and education project is initiated.”
The CFIA report Proposed Risk Management Strategy for EIA Control in Canada can be accessed in pdf format in both official languages at the following links:
Written comments are requested by June 30, 2015 via email at EIA-AIE@inspection.gc.ca, or by fax to 613-773-7573 to the attention of Dr. Carolyn James, Veterinary Program Specialist, Domestic Disease Control Programs, Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Main Photo: ©Sven Cramer-Fotolia.com