Swamp fever, or equine infectious anaemia (EIA), has broken out in France. Fourteen cases of the potentially fatal virus have been detected in Provence, where 24 premises are now under restrictions.

The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) renewed calls for Defra to review the Tripartite Agreement, an arrangement between the UK, Ireland and France that allows the easy movement of horses.

“There is very little threat of competition horses spreading EIA,” said BEVA president Chris House. “Our concern is rescue horses and other animals that have been in the affected area.”

Professor Richard Newton of the Animal Health Trust said if the Tripartite Agreement were followed to the letter, there would be no problem.

“The agreement stipulates only healthy, registered horses may move freely between the countries, but policing is a problem,” he said.

But a Defra spokesman told H&H no additional veterinary checks would be put in place: “The outbreak highlights the need for horse owners and vets to be vigilant,” she said.

And the British Horseracing Authority’s director of equine science and welfare, Tim Morris, said the disease posed “low risk” at present.

The Provencal outbreak follows one in the Ardeche, France, last August, when four horses were euthanased.

EIA is transmitted by midges and tainted blood products. Signs include haemorrhages, intermittent fever, swelling of the legs and head and anaemia. It can also cause organ failure and death.

Though EIA is endemic in some parts of Europe, horses in the UK have never been exposed, so are highly susceptible.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (14 May, ’09)