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IntervetVET UK Ltd has provided a Kent yard with £8,700 financial support in a “unique and unusual” case involving 19 horses infected with strangles, despite being vaccinated against it.

In a separate “goodwill gesture”, the company funded vets’ fees and diagnostics worth more than £7,000.

While the origin of the March strangles outbreak at Crippenden Manor — a riding school/livery yard in Cowden — is unknown, a lesson arising from it for all horse owners is that whole yards should be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

Intervet’s Equilis StrepE was the first vaccine of its kind to be released in the UK (November 2004), following 12 years’ research.

Owners of 19 horses vaccinated at Crippenden Manor but infected with strangles said they accepted the vaccine did not cause the outbreak (clinical symptoms were identified on 29 March, with diagnosis five weeks later). But they were disappointed the vaccine did not prevent infection or moderate the severity of symptoms.

Diana Passmore, one of 16 owners, said 19 of the 24 vaccinated horses were infected by the strangles outbreak compared with eight of the remaining 21 unvaccinated horses.

“Intervet made the payment [21 October] as a gesture of goodwill after we instigated the request,” Passmore said. “It’s been a distressing time for everyone — the vaccinated horses were, on balance, much sicker.”

The £8,700 from Intervet covered £5,500 to yard proprietor Amanda Burr (including payment to cover her five vaccinated horses — one of which was not infected); with other livery owners receiving £200 for each vaccinated horse infected and £100 for each vaccinated horse not infected.

The yard’s vet, Scott McGinness, who runs Equine Veterinary Services International Ltd in Felbridge, said the majority of the vaccinated horses infected with strangles were clinically more ill than infected unvaccinated horses, adding that while nobody could point a finger of blame, the vaccine was not effective in the majority of the vaccinated group.

Intervet veterinary manager Alasdair King said the vaccine was “safe and effective” in conjunction with good stable management and hygiene, with licensing following independent scrutiny by the European veterinary medicines regulatory body.

“Since its recent launch, approximately 75,000 doses have been used in at-risk horses throughout Europe, South Africa and South America and we have not seen any cases remotely similar to that of Crippenden Manor,” King said.

He said no vaccination programme offered a 100% guarantee and the strangles vaccine gave a similar level of protection to human flu vaccines.

Intervet advised all horses in a yard should be vaccinated. King said a leading independent expert investigating the Crippenden Manor case believed a number of factors were unique — the fact only half the yard was vaccinated, with the yard also being slow to recognise symptoms.

In response, Passmore and Burr said while they suspected strangles, it was initially ruled out given the first horse to become ill was vaccinated.

“The real message is for all horse owners to watch out for strangles symptoms even if their horses have been vaccinated,” Burr said.

  • This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (5 January, ’05)

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