The Tennessee state veterinarian’s office said Thursday it is investigating an outbreak of a blood parasite that is affecting a stable of racing Quarter Horses.
Officials say 17 horses in Rutherford County have tested positive for Equine Prioplasmosis (EP).
EP can be transmitted by infected ticks, but it is more commonly spread by blood and blood products. It happens through the sharing of needles, syringes, or improperly cleaned and disinfected dental, tattoo, surgical, or blood product equipment between infected and uninfected horses.
According to the USDA, there have also been reports during disease investigations of non-veterinarians administering blood transfusions on horses to enhance performance.[irp]
Horses do not transmit the disease to other horses through casual contact, the Tennessee veterinarian’s office reports. Officials recommend handlers practice good biosecurity measures.
It may take as long as 30 days for an infected horse to test positive for the disease after exposure.
Early clinical signs can range from weakness and lack of appetite to swelling of limbs and labored breathing. EP affected animals can develop fever, anemia, yellowing of the membranes in the eyes and mouth and dark brown to red-tinged urine.
Horses that survive the acute phase continue to carry the parasite for an extended period of time.
Once horses test positive for the disease they are quarantined and may be euthanized.
The disease is not a risk to human health.
The disease was first seen in the U.S. in the early 1960s.
A federal initiative led to EP’s eradication by 1988, but cases began reappearing again in 2008. In response, U.S. officials are tracing the spread of the disease and working to stop it.
An investigation into this outbreak is on-going.