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The Horserace Betting Levy Board issued a warning this week to all horse breeders to maintain a high level of vigilance to avoid infectious diseases in the 2005 breeding season.

The recommendations for increased awareness in the equine breeding industry come as a result of recent cases of contagious equine metritis (CEM), a uterine infection of mares which results in temporary infertility in Britain, and cases of equine viral arteritis (EVA), a virus which may cause abortion or pregnancy failure in broodmares, in Ireland.

Isolated cases of equine herpes virus in Kent and the South West caused a degree of panic earlier this year – the most common strain of the virus, EEHV-1 can cause respiratory problems, abortion in pregnant mares and in rare cases paralysis. Libby Archer, HBLB Scientific Liaison Executive explains however, that the disease can be prevented “by appropriate management and strict attention to hygiene, as well as through the use of the EHV vaccination.”

All three are highly infectious conditions, which can cause widespread reduced fertility and serious disruption to breeding operations, in particular amongst the thoroughbred population in which the permitted covering season is short.

John Parker FRCVS, Chairman of the advisory committee responsible for the HBLB’s codes of Practice, said “recent cases of CEM in the UK and EVA in Ireland highlight the need for all breeders, regardless of the breed or type of horse they produce and whether they are using natural cover or artificial insemination, to implement the disease prevention measures in the codes.

“Outbreaks of CEM, EHV and EVA can have serious consequences, and it is the responsibility of all breeders to follow the Codes to safeguard their own and other horses, and stud activity generally,” he added.

Libby Archer agrees that all horse owners “have a great responsibility not only to their own horses, but also to other horses.

“One of the most important things in the instance of an outbreak of any of these diseases is communication with any horse owners whose animals may have been exposed to the disease,” she explains.

The code, the HBLB stresses, only provides minimum recommendations for breeders, although as CEM and EVA are notifiable diseases, Defra would step in and impose statutory measures in the event of an outbreak. EHV on the other hand, is not notifiable, but owners are advised to minimise the spread of the disease through self-imposed movement restrictions and by following the HBLB’s Code of Practice.

• For copies of the Codes (free of charge) contact the Horserace Betting Levy Board, 52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W 0AU, tel: 020 7333 0043, stating your name, address and how many copies you want.

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