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Hundreds of Thai horses die and thousands more at risk in major disease outbreak

A leading Thai vet has made an urgent appeal for help in containing an outbreak of African horse sickness (AHS) that has killed hundreds of horses.

Some 500 equines have already died of the disease in Thailand, where it had not previously been diagnosed, and experts believe thousands more are at risk.

Siraya Chunekamrai, chair of the Lampang Pony Welfare Foundation, and vice-president of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, is treating animals and leading urgent vaccination efforts. She has also launched an international fundraising appeal for essentials, including nets to protect horses from the midges that spread the disease.

AHS is listed as a notifiable disease by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) owing to its severity and the risk of rapid global spread. Horses have no natural immunity to it, and treatment is limited to rest, isolation, palliative care and euthanasia.

Dr Chunekamrai said: “This outbreak is particularly deadly, with horses dying quickly.

“They present with acute signs and with both cardiac and pulmonary forms. Clinical signs include fever, depression, conjunctivitis, swelling above the eyes and lips and dyspnea. The mortality rate is very high at around 95%.”

The Lampang Pony Welfare Foundation, which works to improve the welfare of ponies and horses in Thailand, is focusing on managing the outbreak in the central area of the country, which has been badly hit.

As many of the horses affected are working equines essential to the livelihoods of owners already suffering from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the AHS outbreak could have “disastrous” consequences.

Dr Chunekamrai said a major challenge is educating owners that mosquito netting does not protect horses as the midges can get through it. Her appeal will buy finer netting, as well as other essentials.

She added that horses are not being vaccinated until they are tested, to ensure only uninfected animals are vaccinated. Efforts are also being made to stop the virus from spreading, within and outside Thailand.

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“This is a welfare disaster for hundreds, possibly thousands of horses in Thailand,” Dr Chunekamrai said.

“It is equally disastrous for their owners, many of whom depend on them for their livelihood. Despite the restrictions in place because of the Covid-19 pandemic, veterinarians across the country are working tirelessly to reduce the suffering of horses in Thailand and to help owners to protect their animals. We are determined to control the disease and regain our country-freedom from AHS status.

“There is much work to be done before we achieve our goal, and we are desperate for funds to help us buy netting, insecticides, feed and other essentials to help poorer Thai people to protect their horses from this dreadful disease. We would be grateful for any donations to support our work at this difficult and heartbreaking time.”

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