Saturday, July 12, 2008

Floating On The Ark

My life currently revolves around horses, mine and the horses of the people who entrust them to me. Imagine my horror the other day to hear that there is a virus sweeping Egypt that threatens the health and the very lives of those that I love. One of my vet friends told me that for the first time in ages, possibly ever, the summer racing season has been canceled here because of a highly infectious virus sweeping the stables initiating, as far as we can tell, in Alexandria.

Since that day we have quarantined the farm, as have many of our neighbours, in the hope of keeping the virus away from our horses. Equine Influenza is like any other influenza in that there are different strains of it and it mutates all the time. There are vaccines for it, and in fact horses in competition are required by the FEI to be vaccinated against it twice a year. The problem, however, is that the vaccines may not be entirely effective against the particular strain that is going around, so vaccinated horses may get it anyway, albeit an attenuated version, but enough to infect someone else who might not be vaccinated.

Last year Australia went through a countrywide quarantine when EI broke out in what until that point had been one of three EI-free (along with Iceland and Greenland) countries in the world. Strict controls that caused enormous hardship to the equestrian industries, racing and tourism, as well as sport and recreation, brought the situation under control and Australia has been declared free of Equine Influenza once again. Egypt, on the other hand, is hardly likely to ever be free of Equine Influenza. We have a huge population of working equids hauling carts of goods and food to all parts of the cities from the farming areas. To be honest, I don't know how the country would cope without its donkeys and horses.

So these days I'm sitting here with the creatures catching up on organisational work, writing, and so on. No one comes into the farm, no one leaves...other than staff who are extremely careful to avoid any contact with any other animals whatsoever. The local staff come and go in one set of clothing, leaving work clothing here where there is nothing to contaminate it. We have a mix of herbs that are being added to the horses' grain in the evening in the hopes that it will help their immune systems to fight off the virus. I get calls from my vet friends reporting the latest cases. This afternoon I heard that there were eighty cases at the EAO, the Egyptian government stud where 400 of the foundation bloodstock of the Egyptian Arabian horse are housed. I suspect that most of the horses here are not vaccinated against EI, partly for financial reasons because the vaccines are imported from the US and are very expensive, and partly for other reasons. I have serious doubts about the usefulness of the vaccines. The theory is that the vaccine gives the horse a small case of EI to induce production of antibodies, but since we have other strains of EI floating around all the time, they should also get antibodies from those strains that our horses come in contact regularly anyway. And in this case there are horses who should have had the vaccines due to FEI regulations anyway, and they are also ill....and worse, they are speading the disease. Hopefully, it will burn itself out soon and we will be free to roam the desert again. In the meantime things will probably get worse before they get better.

copyright 2008 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani