Sigríður Björnsdóttir is a horse disease vet at the Food Institute. As such, she takes care of the safety and health of Icelandic horses. All horse people are aware of the contagious cough which has been going around during the past months. It is very contagious, making it difficult for people to plan things ahead. Tournaments and shows have for the most part been cancelled, but still we are planning Landsmót in roughly five weeks. Is this realistic? How did this plague get here to this country?
Eiðfaxi called Sigríður or Systa about the situation in this matter.
Eiðfaxi: What is the situation in the cold infection as you see it?
”The situation is that this epidemic is still active. The contagion probably reached its peak some time ago and many horses bear the symptoms of it at this time. Generally speaking the horses do not develop symptoms until two to four weeks after having been infected. The good news is that the symptoms have become milder now as spring is here, especially among the horses which have spent a lot of time outside or those who are staying outside. The clean air seems to minimize the impact of the infection and hopefully the horses will also recover quicker also.“
Eiðfaxi: Do you believe that the timing of Landsmót will be reconsidered?
”The Landsmót board of directors will make all decisions concerning Landsmót. Meetings have been planned soon where the situation will be reviewed. “
Eiðfaxi: What about all the training centers with horses which have recently been infected?
”They are in a very difficult situation concerning Landsmót. On the other hand, the horses which are getting sick now will probably have milder symptoms and will likely recover more quickly. Now that people have gained the experience i.e. knowing that rest and clean are is the key. “
Eiðfaxi: We have heard of a few cases where people had started training their horses again but then a setback came and the horses got sick again?
”Yes this is true and it certainly is a great disappointment, especially when this concerns horses that were well on their way into good training again. But Mette Mannseth had warned people about this in an interview at www.eidfaxi.is about a month ago. These horses should not get as sick as they did the first time, although some time could pass before they fully recover. I encourage people to clean their stables out thoroughly in order to minimize the possibility of infection and the danger that it will start all over again.“
Eiðfaxi: Isn´t there danger of people being tempted to start training their horses too soon with serious consequences? And there is great interest at stake in many places concerning Landsmót?
”It has been decided to have an extra breeding horse show following those who had been planned. This will ease the pressure and give people more time. “
Eiðfaxi: What about leisure horse riders? Will they be able to ride their horses to the summer pasture as normally?
”That is something that each and every one has to evaluate for their own horses. Riding to the summer pasture is not essential should there be a doubt whether the horses are well or not. The cough is the most distinct symptom and people have to take this seriously. None the less, I would like to encourage horse people to move their horses to the summer pasture - out in the fresh air, out of the infection as soon as possible. If there is suspicion of sickness, the horses’ health needs to be monitored. Also, we always need to, as much as possible, prevent great changes in their feed, when the horses are turned loose in the summer pasture.”
Eiðfaxi: Any findings yet from the samples which were sent to Sweden?
”Yes, we have results from most of the tests we were able to do and we have excluded all of the most dangerous horse viruses which infect the respiratory systems. This is valuable, although we are not much closer as far as finding exactly what this is. We are still waiting for the results for the lighter virus infection, as those are tests that needed to be done separately. Samples have been sent to Germany, where we are waiting for diagnosis and also we have been in contact with diagnosis facilities in the USA and France. But more of less, all these research facilities offer more or less the same kind of results. I would also like to mention, that this is not a case of a malignant throat lymphadenitis, and the symptoms are not pointing towards that either. Although, mild cases of strep infection is common in horses with the same symptoms and presumably this is a case of a sequel infection. “
Eiðfaxi: Let us suppose that a human being brought the infection into the country. Possibly within someone’s riding gear, gloves or other, is our protection against infections lacking? Are we sleeping when we should be on guard?
”Yes, generally speaking, there is great carelessness here. People travel a lot between countries, host seminars, show horses and more and they go directly from such activities into the airplane home. Gradually we put down our awareness as these travels become more common. I fear that rules on infection defense is not always respected, such as prohibiting the import of used riding gear and riding gloves. Many are taking with them bits, although that is prohibited. It seems to be a wide spread misunderstanding that it is sufficient to freeze clothes or bridle gear which has been brought into the country. Freezing this gear is not the method to disinfect things; this is the way to protect the infection. The customs are the authorities in charge of the prohibition of this sort of import, but they are far away from realizing what is going on here. The horse people themselves have to make sure that this factor is being respected. Perhaps we have been too busy warning foreigners of this and not stressed this point sufficiently with our native Icelanders who are traveling between countries. Perhaps people have gotten away with taking this and that with them into the country for many years. But the danger remains and we clearly see that we are close to a great damage as a result of this kind of carelessness. “
Eiðfaxi thanks Sigríður very much for the chat and we will keep on monitoring the health of our horses.