Swamp fever on the rise in the Northwest

By Gaven Crites

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed eight positive cases of equine infectious anemia (EIA) in the Meadow Lake area last month.
Commonly known as swamp fever, the disease is potentially fatal and attacks the immune system of horses, donkeys and mules.
The eight horses were found on three separate properties in the area and represent some of the first confirmed cases in the province this year.
Veterinarian Ed LaBrash, who performs many tests for horse owners in and around Meadow Lake, suspects at least one other positive case will emerge following a more recent test.
“I haven’t had firm confirmation, but I believe there was another herd affected in February,” LaBrash said.
All suspected cases are reported to the CFIA who then notify owners of any positive results and order additional testing for any animals that have had contact with the affected animal in the last 30 days. Infected animals are often euthanized.
“A number of people are concerned about it, so we’ve been doing more random testing,” LaBrash said, adding EIA is mostly found in northern fringe areas where large numbers of wild horses and flies and mosquitoes are found.
“For this outbreak, there is some evidence that some of the positive horses may have been brought in from northern Alberta in the Saddle Lake area. It keeps coming up again and again. There were three cases where positive horses came from Saddle Lake. Whether they were positive when they came here or not, (I don’t know). It might be coincidental.”
Only one other confirmed case – near Smoky Lake in Alberta, about an hour’s drive from Saddle Lake – was reported for January.
LaBrash is not surprised positive cases are again popping up in the area.
“If we’d have had mandatory testing three or four years ago, there might have only been one or two cases,” he said. “Right now, we’re potentially dealing with dozens of cases.”
Swamp fever has been around for as long as horses have been around, LaBrash added.
“The problems with swamp fever are it’s localized in certain areas, and that it stays hidden in horses for years. A lot of horses never get sick, but they can potentially still transmit the disease.”
LaBrash said the initial case came up last fall when a horse owner in the Meadow Lake area complained about a significant drop in the performance of his animals.
“(EIA) is going to crop up again,” he said. “If you want to perform at another level and play with the rest of the world, horses need to be tested.”
Eighty-two animals at 29 different locations in the province tested positive for EIA last year. Fourteen of those animals were found in the Meadow Lake area.

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