22/08/2017 Development and Implementation of a Strangles Surveillance System

The Horse Trust has been funding Strangles research for over 20 years and is supporting the development of a Strangles surveillance programme in partnership with the Animal Health Trust (AHT). Led by Dr Richard Newton, the new system will be the first to accurately monitor the spread of the infection through the UK horse population.

It aims to help scientists to more closely understand if there are any links between outbreaks and new strains of the bacterium and in time, facilitate the monitoring of any Strangles control initiatives such as future vaccines.

The Horse Trust also hopes the public can be encouraged to take a much calmer approach to the much-feared illness, which can be easily managed with basic bio-security. It is not airborne and simple biosecurity measures such as changing clothes, washing boots in Vircon and wearing disposable gloves can help make sure it doesn’t spread. It is incredibly rare for a horse to die of Strangles, it’s just very unpleasant to go through. Sadly, there is a tendency to victimise or vilify yards or owners with an infected horse or pony and this is not at all helpful.

Earlier this month, Vesta, a Shetland arrived at The Horse Trust after two week’s treatment at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). She had been rescued by Reading-based rescue charity Saving Abandoned Fly-grazing Equines (SAFE). Her harrowing story was published by Horse and Hound. She will remain in isolation for several weeks to ensure she has not become a carrier to safeguard the herd at the Trust but even as a carrier, there is treatment and had she received antibiotics at the right time, she would not be in the terrible condition she is now. (Read the article online)

Jeanette Allen, Chief Executive of The Horse Trust said, “This beautiful little Shetland is a perfect example of just how treatable Strangles can be, that even with such advanced infection she is almost certainly going to live a happy, healthy and hopefully long life thanks to proper treatment and simple infection control procedures.” 

“We need to get rid of the myths and the unpleasantness surrounding strangles and make it something everyone in the community fights together. In supporting Dr. Newton and the national surveillance programme, we will hopefully bring the subject properly into the light and help people get a better understanding.”

“In supporting strangles research for over 20 years with the AHT, it is our long-term ambition to create an effective and affordable vaccine in the future. The surveillance programme will help in testing the efficacy of any new vaccines when the time comes.”


Summary of the new research project 

Doctor Richard Newton, Animal Health Trust.
Monitoring the menace: development & implementation of a nationwide strangles surveillance system.

Strangles in horses, caused by infection with S. equi, is characterised by fever, loss of appetite and swelling and abscessation of lymph nodes of the head/neck and occurs across most of the world, affecting many thousands of horses, with hundreds of outbreaks in the UK annually. However, despite its significance globally, in most countries including the UK, there are no meaningful national surveillance data accurately monitoring the extent and progress of the disease through the horse population. This project will develop and implement a system for clinical and laboratory surveillance of strangles, the most important equine infectious disease in the UK. We will establish two surveillance networks (comprising veterinary practices and laboratories, respectively), with methods introduced for regular submission of anonymised information. AHT already uses networks of veterinary practices and laboratories in its long-established equine influenza and Defra/AHT/BEVA quarterly equine disease surveillance initiatives; these will form the basis of this proposed surveillance system. Once developed, this initiative will regularly collate information on clinical and laboratory-confirmed strangles cases across the UK, allowing ongoing assessment of its true welfare impact and highlighting trends over time and in different geographical areas. The system will also conduct genetic sequencing of S. equi provided by collaborating laboratories and representing the national strangles picture. These data will allow unprecedented genetic surveillance of the causative organism of strangles in the UK, confirming or refuting links between outbreaks and flagging emerging strain diversity, which may result in altered disease severity or future vaccine efficacy. In time the system will facilitate monitoring of strangles control initiatives, including future vaccines, especially those with DIVA-capability (Differentiating Infected from Vaccinated Animals).