Defra vets have spoken out today to reassure horse owners that the biting flies responsible for the spread of swamp fever — or EIA — are not active in the winter.
A spokesman for Defra told H&H this afternoon: “The only biting insects that spread the disease are large biting flies (tabanid species — horse flies) and Stomoxys calcitrans (stable flies) that feed on blood.”
“These are only active between May and September, with the peak of activity in July and August. They overwinter as maggots, and cannot spread EIA in this form.”
He added that the disease is not spread by midges — despite statements to the contrary appearing the press.
The two horses with swamp fever in Wiltshire were slaughtered yesterday. The restrictions on the two premises where the horses were held are likely to remain in place for up to 90 days.
Defra is also quashing rumours that the horses were tested randomly and EIA picked up only by chance.
“All imported horses we know have come from Romania are tested, as part of our risk management strategy,” he said.
The horses had come from Romania via Belgium — where it is understood they were held for “some time”.
The spokesman told H&H that the horses were certified as healthy upon leaving Belgium and Romania, but said UK officials would be talking to both countries “at EU level”.
As a result of the case, 13 countries worldwide will not allow horses from the UK to enter their shores — most notably the US. Other than these countries, horse exports from Britain are not banned.
“But we are discussing this with America and hope to have it resolved within a day or two,” confirmed Defra.
A number of Caribbean and South American countries are among the countries that will not allow horses to be imported unless their country of origin is free of EIA, as well as Japan, Kenya, Singapore and Bahrain.