Again, there are a huge amount of similarities between human flu and equine flu. Just as flu spreads around schools and workplaces like wildfire, equine flu can infect a whole stableyard or even area at unbelievable speed.
Because the incubation period is so short (1-3 days) it’s not unheard of for an entire herd to have contracted the disease before you’ve seen clinical signs in the first horse to develop it. It can also be spread indirectly via contaminated equipment such as feed buckets.
2. Some horses are more susceptible than others
Foals, young horses and older horses are most at risk for contracting equine flu.
Horses who regularly compete or travel are another group who may be more susceptible to contracting flu. This is partly because travelling stresses the immune system (especially when coupled with intense physical exercise as seen when horses compete), but also because they are more likely to encounter the virus by virtue of being exposed to a large number of different horses.
3. Vaccinations are effective
Vaccinations against equine influenza have been available for many years, and scientific developments over the decades have only made them more effective.
In fact, scientists estimate that if the equine population were totally unvaccinated, equine flu would have a 100% infection rate.
The recommended vaccination schedule can vary somewhat from country to country, but generally it is recommended that horses are given their initial vaccine followed by a second one 4-6 weeks later; boosters are then given for the remainder of the horse’s life.
These boosters are recommended every 6-12 months, but remember that if you compete, you’ll need to check the rules of your governing body. Some will only allow horses to compete when they receive boosters every six months, others may only require boosters every 12 months.
4. Clinical signs to look out for
Equine flu is usually undetectable in the first few days of infection, but by carefully monitoring your horse and being aware of the clinical signs, you will be able to recognise the disease earlier:
- A very high temperature of more than 39C (103F)
- Loss of appetite
- Deep, dry cough
- A clear discharge from the nose – this can become thickened and may turn yellow or green
- Swollen lymph nodes under the jaw