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Don’t let respiratory disease slow your riding adventures this season

Lady standing in front of a fence with her horse.

Managing equine infectious respiratory disease is not likely on your priority list this busy spring and summer season. Now is the time to cut off potential disease with proper vaccination and sound management practices. To do so it’s crucial to know what’s circulating and arm yourself with information and tools to stay ahead of an outbreak.

The most common infectious upper respiratory diseases impacting horses in the United States are equine herpesvirus type 4 (EHV-4) and equine influenza virus (EIV).1 Not far behind is Streptococcus equi subspecies equi (S. equi or strangles). An uptick in strangles has been apparent the past two years and it was the most prevalent disease in 2023. All these diseases are highly contagious, which is why containment is extremely important to protect horses that travel as well as those residing on the ranch.

While infectious respiratory disease can be diagnosed any time of the year, it does show distinct seasonality. EHV-4 continues to be more prevalent in the fall months, while the other respiratory pathogens (especially EIV) are more common in winter and spring.

These insights are available to the industry thanks to 16 years of data collected through the Merck Animal Health Equine Biosurveillance Program.

What is the Equine Biosurveillance Program?

Since 2008, Merck Animal Health has partnered with the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine on the Equine Biosurveillance Program, a voluntary project in which veterinarians and researchers collaborate to monitor equine respiratory disease in horses nationwide. The program monitors six main pathogens:

  • Equine herpesvirus types 1 and 4 (EHV-1, EHV-4): These respiratory viruses cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe; EHV-1 can also cause late-term abortions, early foal death and neurologic disease​​.
  • Equine influenza virus (EIV): This highly contagious “flu” virus can cause fever, coughing, nasal discharge and lethargy.
  • Streptococcus equi subspecies equi (S. equi or strangles): S. equi is a bacterium that causes strangles, a highly contagious disease that produces abscesses in the lymph nodes of the head and neck, as well as fever and nasal discharge.
  • Equine rhinitis A/B viruses (ERAV/ERBV): These viruses infect horses’ respiratory tracts, with symptoms including fever, nasal discharge and coughing.

At the heart of the Equine Biosurveillance Program lies a commitment to four main goals:

  1. Help equine veterinarians diagnose and treat infectious respiratory diseases as quickly as possible.
  2. Help the horse industry understand how common these respiratory pathogens are, how they spread, and why they affect some horses more than others.
  3. Identify and monitor the latest pathogen strains currently circulating.
  4. Evaluate how well current vaccination protocols are working.

The Biosurveillance Program has amassed the largest collection of equine infectious upper respiratory data in the United States, including one of the largest sample sets of equine influenza. To date, more than 12,000 samples have been submitted from veterinarians across the United States representing horses of all ages, sexes and breeds. This extensive dataset has proved pivotal for advancing horse health care to date and will only boost equine health outcomes in the future.

Horse receiving PRESTIGE vaccine.

Only PRESTIGE® Vaccines are backed by the Equine Biosurveillance Program

A significant contribution of the Biosurveillance Program has been the identification and isolation of Florida ’13. This highly pathogenic strain of influenza is considered the most current, clinically significant strain and is available only in Merck Animal Health’s PRESTIGE® vaccines.

PRESTIGE influenza-containing vaccines feature both Clade 1 and Clade 2 strains, meeting current influenza protection guidelines from both the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH, previously known as OIE).

The PRESTIGE line of vaccines provides premier protection against the most common and deadly diseases of the horse. Backed by the latest insights from the Biosurveillance Program and Merck Animal Health’s worldwide leadership in vaccine innovation, PRESTIGE offers a wide range of vaccines that are trusted for safety and efficacy.

Raise your standard in vaccine performance and ask your veterinarian for PRESTIGE. Learn more at PrestigeVaccines.com.

1Merck Animal Health and University of California, Davis (Nicola Pusterla). Infectious Upper Respiratory Disease Surveillance Program. Ongoing research 2008–present.

Copyright © 2024 Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, NJ, USA and its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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