Reassurances to owners after equine coronavirus antibodies found in Tokyo *H&H Plus*

  • ‘METICULOUS’ biosecurity measures will be in place to keep horses safe at this year’s Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    The detailed procedures were released by the FEI this month, along with strong reassurances after equine coronavirus antibodies – from a typically mild virus unlinked to Covid-19 that cannot be transmitted to humans – were found in horses at Tokyo racecourse last year, around 22km from the Olympic stadium.

    Quarantine and biosecurity are normal procedures for horses travelling internationally, and the FEI has outlined details of the protocols that will need to be followed for all horses on arrival.

    “All Olympic and Paralympic horses, no matter where they travel from, are subject to a seven-day quarantine period in the country of departure prior to entering the equestrian park venue,” said the FEI statement. “It is not anticipated that any horses participating at the Games will originate from Japan, however, should any of the Japanese domestic horses qualify, they will be subject to the same seven-day quarantine period in Japan prior to their arrival at [the main venue].”

    Horses will be transported “bubble-to-bubble” between the airport, main venue, and the eventing cross-country site. Japan will also self-declare an “equine disease free zone” to the World Organisation for Animal Health ahead of the Games, which will cover all locations to which horses travelling to compete will go.

    All vehicles and people entering the equestrian venues from 6 July onwards will pass through a “sanitary barrier”, which includes a wheel-wash, footbaths and disinfection misting fan.

    Transport vehicles will be “thoroughly cleaned and disinfected”, as will all other equipment, and the airport ramp will be disinfected between each plane-load of horses.

    There will be handwashing and disinfection facilities in each stable block, and anyone who is around horses not competing at the Games must shower, disinfect their hands and change into fresh clothes and shoes before coming into contact with Olympic and Paralympic horses.

    What is equine coronavirus?

    OWNERS can be reassured equine coronavirus is not a cause for concern.

    “Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, there is an understandable concern associated with the term coronavirus, but there are a large number of these viruses, and the vast majority result in only mild symptoms. One of the most prevalent coronaviruses in humans is the common cold,” states the FEI, adding that the virus is “nothing new”, not a notifiable disease, is endemic in a number of countries, and usually only causes mild gastrointestinal signs.

    David Rendle, chairman of the British Equine Veterinary Association’s health and medicines committee, also offered reassurances to owners and said it is “uncommon” for equine coronavirus to cause disease, but if it does, symptoms are typically mild.

    Mr Rendle told H&H the fact antibodies were found is “not at all surprising and not overly concerning”.

    “Had we not been in the middle of a human pandemic with a virus that shares the same name it is unlikely that this would have received any media or public interest,” he said.

    “Equine coronavirus is known to be present across the world and horses travelling to the Olympics will not be at significantly higher risk of exposure to the virus than they would be normally, particularly considering all of the biosecurity measures that are in place to ensure competing horses remain within a ‘bubble’ and do not come into contact with the local horse population.

    “It is important that perspective is maintained and we avoid drawing any parallels with the current human pandemic that has resulted from a virus that shares the name, but is very different from equine coronavirus.”

    Mr Rendle also explained in more detail exactly what both equine coronavirus and coronaviruses in general are.

    “Coronaviruses are a very common group of viruses that affect many species, including horses,” he said.

    “In the main, coronaviruses are not overly harmful, the current human pandemic is exceptional. A strain of coronavirus specific to horses, which is completely unrelated to the human strains, has been recognised as a cause of mild disease in horses for over 20 years but is likely to have been circulating unrecognised for much longer.

    “It is very rare for coronaviruses to cross from one species to another. While this is recognised to have happened at the outset of the current human pandemic, the risk of horse-human and human-horse spread of coronavirus is incredibly small.  It is uncommon for equine coronavirus to cause disease, but when it does it typically causes mild diarrhoea, mild colic, respiratory signs, vague illness or high temperature.”

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