Strangles or Equine Distemper, is a contagious upper respiratory tract infection of horses, ponies & donkeys which is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus Equi. It spreads very quickly especially in stable settings and in large equine populations.
Clinical signs include, fever, heavy nasal discharge, and swollen or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and throatlatch. abscesses can develop around the head and neck. There is usually a loss of appetite and a dull aspect, with stiffness in the movement of the head and neck.
Precautions to limit the spread of the illness are necessary. An isolation period of 6 weeks is usually required.
The disease is spread when the nasal discharge or material from a draining abscess contaminates pasture, stables, feed buckets, and other animals, etc. Equines of any age can contract the disease, although the younger and the elderly are more susceptible.
The matter is further complicated because it is thought approximately 10% of animals that recover may still be carriers of the disease and may pass it on to other animals.
The incubation period for the disease is typically 3 to 14 days, with full blown abscesses developing about two weeks after infection.
Penicillin or penicillin derivative antibiotics are the most effective treatments, along with general hygiene, cleaning and disinfection of all possible contaminated surfaces, also the changing of clothes, and washing hands when leaving an infected area. After an abscess has burst it is very important to keep the wound clean, a diluted povidone iodione solution has been used with good results.
Complications that may occur include asphyxia due to enlarged lymph nodes compressing the windpipe, hence the term Strangles comes from the difficulty in breathing and the sound of suffocation. Or so called Bastard Strangles ( when the infection spreads to other areas of the body ), the mortality rate is then much higher, pneumonia, guttural pouches filled with pus, abscesses, purpura haemorrhagica and heart disease may occur.
There are a number of test that can be used to test for Strangles, the disease status of the horse will determine what course of action to take.
Vaccines are available, with regular boosters needed.
For further information :- The British Horse Society Scotland website contains a voluntary code of practice to be used in the event of a Strangles outbreak :- Strategy To Eradicate & Prevent Strangles ( STEPS ) …….There is also useful information on Bio Security….. www.bhsscotland.org.uk