The flu is spreading like wildfire this year across the nation. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has characterized influenza activity as “widespread” in all regions of the state. In New Jersey the state health department is reporting “moderate” or “high levels of flu activity” throughout all 21 counties.
Getting your flu shot is certainly a wise preventative measure, but what happens if your horse gets the flu? Can the disease be transmitted to you?
The answer is “No” according to Doctor Richard Meirs of Walnridge Equine Clinic in Cream Ridge, New Jersey. “The flu virus is species specific,” explained Dr. Meirs. While horses can transmit influenza to each other, it is not transmissible to humans and vice versa.
However, there are some transmissible diseases -- known as zoonotic conditions -- that can be passed from animals to humans. “In this area of the country, in New Jersey,” Dr. Meirs explained, “the most severe and most commonly known zoonotic disease is rabies.”
Horses can contact rabies from a rabid animal bite and thereby be a threat to his or her handler’s health. It is important that any individual who handles horses understands the various types of zoonotic diseases endemic to the region and takes the necessary actions to minimize risk of infection for horse and human.
The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture provides some valuable information explaining some common zoonotic equine diseases. The following are a just a few discussed in “Horse Transmitted Disease” by Roberta M. Dwyer, DVM, MS, DACPM and Professor in the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture:
A common bacterial skin disease, rain rot (Dermatophilosis) is characterized by matted hair and skin lesions that ooze and form clumps. According to the University of Kentucky although it is a rare zoonosis in healthy people, it can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with lesions.
A disease caused by Salmonella bacteria, horses often exhibit acute or chronic diarrhea and/or may have localized infections in abscesses, joints, eyes and other areas. Handlers should always wear gloves when dealing with any animal with diarrhea. Horse manure should be disposed of where no horse or human can make contact with it.
A fungal skin infection, ringworm (Dermatophytosis) is caused by Trichophyton equinum. Horses display circular patches of hair loss. Always avoid direct skin contact with infected horses or equipment.
A viral disease, rabies is transmitted via the bite of a rabid animal or contact with the animal’s saliva, open wounds or mucous membranes. Horses become infected by getting bitten by a rabid animal such as a raccoon, fox or bat. Any horse with rabies will usually die within ten days of the onset of clinical signs. Anyone who has been exposed to a rabid horse or other animal should receive immediate anti-rabies medical treatment.
Prevention is the best medicine
Your veterinarian can work with you to develop a comprehensive program to protect your horses from infectious diseases. When handling a sick horse, always wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards (and change your clothes if necessary) in order to reduce the likelihood of spreading disease. For a more in-depth look at equine transmitted diseases, visit the University of Kentucky website for more complete information.
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