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Descriptive epidemiologic study of disease associated with influenza virus infections during three epidemics in horses

Paul S. Morley DVM, PhD, DACVIM1,2, Hugh G. G. Townsend DVM, MSc3, Jaret R. Bogdan BSc4, and Deborah M. Haines DVM, MPhil, PhD5
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  • 1 Department of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, S7N 5B4.
  • | 2 Present address: Department of Environmental Health, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1676.
  • | 3 Department of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, S7N 5B4.
  • | 4 Department of Veterinary Microbiology, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, S7N 5B4.
  • | 5 Department of Veterinary Microbiology, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, S7N 5B4.

Abstract

Objective—To describe 3 epidemics of respiratory tract disease caused by influenza virus infections in a large population of horses.

Design—Cross-sectional and prospective longitudinal observational studies.

Animals—All horses stabled at a Thoroughbred racetrack.

Procedure—During a 3-year period, descriptive information was collected as horses arrived at the racetrack and throughout race meetings. Routine observations and physical examinations were used to classify horses' disease status. Cause of epidemics was established by use of serologic testing and identification of influenza virus in nasal secretions.

Results—An epidemic of respiratory tract disease caused by influenza virus infections was identified during each year of the study. Attack rates of infectious upper respiratory tract disease (IURD) ranged from 16 to 28%. Incidence of disease caused by influenza virus infections during racing seasons in the second and third years was 27 and 37 cases/1,000 horses/mo, respectively. Physical distributions of stall locations revealed that affected horses were stabled throughout the population; horses affected later in epidemics were often clustered around horses affected earlier. Mucopurulent nasal discharge and coughing were observed in 83 and 62% of horses with IURD, respectively. Median duration of clinical disease was 11 days. Serologic testing was the most sensitive method used to detect influenza virus infections; 76% of affected horses seroconverted to influenza virus.

Conclusion and Clinical Relevance—Epidemics of IURD were observed annually in association with influenza virus infections. Few precautions were taken to limit spread of infection. Preventing or decreasing the likelihood of exposure and improving immunity in the population could substantially decrease risk of disease in similar populations. (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;216:535–544)

Abstract

Objective—To describe 3 epidemics of respiratory tract disease caused by influenza virus infections in a large population of horses.

Design—Cross-sectional and prospective longitudinal observational studies.

Animals—All horses stabled at a Thoroughbred racetrack.

Procedure—During a 3-year period, descriptive information was collected as horses arrived at the racetrack and throughout race meetings. Routine observations and physical examinations were used to classify horses' disease status. Cause of epidemics was established by use of serologic testing and identification of influenza virus in nasal secretions.

Results—An epidemic of respiratory tract disease caused by influenza virus infections was identified during each year of the study. Attack rates of infectious upper respiratory tract disease (IURD) ranged from 16 to 28%. Incidence of disease caused by influenza virus infections during racing seasons in the second and third years was 27 and 37 cases/1,000 horses/mo, respectively. Physical distributions of stall locations revealed that affected horses were stabled throughout the population; horses affected later in epidemics were often clustered around horses affected earlier. Mucopurulent nasal discharge and coughing were observed in 83 and 62% of horses with IURD, respectively. Median duration of clinical disease was 11 days. Serologic testing was the most sensitive method used to detect influenza virus infections; 76% of affected horses seroconverted to influenza virus.

Conclusion and Clinical Relevance—Epidemics of IURD were observed annually in association with influenza virus infections. Few precautions were taken to limit spread of infection. Preventing or decreasing the likelihood of exposure and improving immunity in the population could substantially decrease risk of disease in similar populations. (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;216:535–544)