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Compiled by Nancy Brannon

In the age of pandemics, preventing the spread of debilitating, and sometimes fatal, diseases becomes a priority.  Developing a biosecurity plan helps prevent the spread of disease – both with our horses and ourselves. Just as we highly value horses at the Mid-South Horse Review, we also highly value our readers, contributors, and advertisers, and want you to stay safe and healthy.  To help you do that, we strive to give you the most reliable, factual information available.

Biosecurity “is a set of measures aimed at preventing the introduction and/or spread of harmful organisms in order to minimize the risk of transmission of infectious diseases.” [Wikipedia]

The USDA  Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) defines biosecurity as “everything that’s done to keep diseases and the pathogens that carry them – viruses, bacteria, funguses, parasites and other microorganisms – away from birds, property, and people. This includes structural biosecurity: measures used in the physical construction and maintenance of facilities, and operational biosecurity: practices, procedures, policies that are consistently followed by people.”

The Merck Veterinary Manual describes three levels of biosecurity: “… a hierarchy of conceptual, structural, and procedural components directed at preventing infectious disease transmission within and across farms, companies, facilities, regions, countries, and continents. Avoidance is the most effective way to prevent disease transmission…”

Conceptual biosecurity revolves around the location of animal facilities and their various components. Structural biosecurity deals with physical factors such as farm layout, fencing, drainage, traffic patterns, feed delivery/storage, and more. Procedural biosecurity deals with routine procedures implemented to prevent the introduction and spread of infection. (Collett 2015)

The Penn State Extension has an article on Biosecurity Fundamentals (2017) and an article on A Practical Approach to Biosecurity (2016).

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines biosecurity similarly and states the “goal of biosecurity is to prevent, control and/or manage risks to life and health…”

In 2007 the American Veterinary Medical Association published an article by Dr. James G.W. Wenzel, DVM: “Veterinary expertise in biosecurity and biological risk assessment.” Wenzel begins his article with: “Emerging global conditions have resulted in an increased role for veterinary medicine in the protection of the nation’s health, food supply, and economy.  Biosecurity is the relatively new term applied to a very old concept: preventing the spread of disease. Controlling the spread of strictly animal diseases obviously falls within the purview of veterinary medicine, but veterinarians also play a role in public health by way of zoonotic diseases and other human-animal interactions.” He says, “Preventing or reducing the spread of microbial disease before its presence is recognized is the key characteristic of general biosecurity.”

With more horse shows and equestrian activities starting back up, we turned to the medical professionals – veterinarians – and asked several about the basic measures horse owners, riders, and trainers should take to keep their horses healthy, both at home and when traveling. In addition, what measures are equally important to keep the horse people safe and healthy in this time of pandemic?

Dr. Mark Akin responded that the AAEP Guidelines for Biosecurity are good ones to follow for your horses’ health, and he provided the link: For horse people, he recommended “doing the same things we’ve been doing: wear masks, keep at least 6 ft. apart, frequent hand washing, and if you’re sick stay home.” He also recommended that when you stop to buy gas (or diesel) wear gloves at the pump. “Have some disposable latex gloves in the truck. I know I do.”

Dr. Akin also sent us a link to an article in the August 2020 issue of The Modern Equine Vet. In the “Ask the Infectious Disease Expert” column, Amanda M. House, DVM, DACVIM considers the question, “How can I help horse owners understand why vaccines are important even when a disease hasn’t recently been seen locally?” She begins by saying that COVID-19 “gives veterinarians a unique opportunity to talk with horse owners about disease prevention.” The focus of the article is on vaccinations for disease prevention and how vaccines prime the immune system so that when a horse is exposed to a disease, the immune system can respond to try to protect the horse from disease. You can read the article at this link:

Allison Parnell, DVM at Equine Veterinary Associates of Olive Branch, MS put together some bullet points on biosecurity at horse events. They are:
  • Vaccinate routinely for communicable diseases as recommended by your veterinarian no less than 2 weeks before traveling to a show or event.
  • Don’t travel with horses that are coughing or displaying other signs of illness such as runny nose, fever, lethargy, poor appetite. Leave them at home.
  • Don’t travel if you are sick or experiencing flu-like symptoms. Consult with your doctor if your symptoms require treatment or testing and ask when it would be safe to travel again.
  • Don’t share water buckets or use community water troughs.
  • Avoid nose to nose contact between horses.
  • Wash your hands frequently and especially after contact with other people’s horses or equipment.
  • Minimize traffic through your barn aisle.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as stall door latches, water faucets, and hose nozzles.
  • Ask the show management what isolation protocols they have in place should an outbreak occur during the event. Do they have certain stalls set aside to keep sick horses away from the others? Do they have a veterinarian on call to treat and test those horses?
  • Keep horses that return home from travelling separate from others on the farm for up to 3 weeks. Monitor for signs of illness such as coughing, runny nose, fever, lethargy, poor appetite. Call your veterinarian if signs occur and keep sick horses separated from the herd until treatment is complete and clinical signs have resolved.
If you want more information about keeping your horses and yourself safe from the spread of disease, please check out the following sources, and ask your veterinarian to help you develop a plan specific to your barn and horses.

APHIS USDA Biosecurity.
Collett, Stephen R.,BSc, BVSc, MMedVet, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia. 2015. “The Three Levels of Biosecurity.” Merck Manual. August.
Biosecurity Fundamentals. 2017. Penn State Extension. May.
Biosecurity - A Practical Approach. 2016. Penn State Extension. September.
World Health Organization. International Food Safety Authorities Network. 2010.”Biosecurity: An integrated approach to manage risk to human, animal, and plant life and health.” March.
Wenzel, James G.W., DVM, Ph.D., DACT, DACVPM and Kenneth E. Nusbaum, DVM, Ph.D., DACVM. 2007. “Veterinary expertise in biosecurity and biological risk assessment.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. May. (Vol. 230, No. 10, 1476-1480)
“Everyday Biosecurity for Horse Owners.” Biosecurity Fact Sheet. biosecurity for horse owners_factsheet.pdf

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