Horse disease outbreak sparks fears for North Wales economy

Reporter:

Rachel Nash

A POTENTIALLY fatal disease in horses could have a devastating impact on the region’s economy.

In recent weeks, an outbreak of Strangles disease has spread across North Wales and has been recorded as far east as Llandyrnog.

It is a painful disease of the glands that be fatal in some cases.

Llandyrnog county councillor, Merfyn Parry called on the Welsh Government to do more to protect horses from the disease.

He said: “The problem is this is not a notifiable disease so they don’t have to tell people if their animals have it like you have to do in the case of Foot and Mouth, which is ridiculous really because this disease causes a lot of pain and suffering to horse.

“The Welsh Government need to make it a notifiable disease so people can take relevant precautions.”

He also warned that the outbreak could have terrible consequences for local businesses.

“This could be devastating for the equine economy because it is very infectious and people can carry it on them so it can spread,” he added.

People involved with horses have already had to take precautions to try and stop the spread of the disease.

Horse owner Ceris Williams, from Cynwyd said: “We have made the decision that for now we will stay at home with the ponies and not start the show season. Strangles is a disease that constantly travels around the UK, so not so rare when there are many travelling to shows or selling or purchasing, but we have to be responsible owners and take precautions, so for that it will be a quiet few weeks for us until we hear from area vets that the disease has no more new cases.”

East Clwyd Riding Club has cancelled its events for the month of April, and one of North Wales biggest equine centres, at Coleg Cambria, has been closed in response to the outbreak.

A spokesperson for the college said: “Coleg Cambria has decided to close the Northop Equine Centre to incoming horses and the general public as a precautionary measure following a recommendation by the college's vet and in common with similar decisions by many other livery yards across the region. The decision has been taken to safeguard our horses from the recent 'strangles outbreak'.

“Appropriate hygiene arrangements have been put in place to ensure that students will continue to attend college as normal. We will continue to review the situation and hope to re-open the yard as soon as possible.”

Horse vet Richard Owen, of RD Owen Equine Clinic in St Asaph has been encouraging yards to act to prevent the spread of the disease.

He said: “It is a contact disease, so with adequate hygiene procedures we should be able to control it.

“It has slowed down a lot in the past ten days, and that is due to the restriction in the movement of horses.

“My advice to equestrian centres is to close down for at least two weeks – the incubation period – and ideally for three weeks.

“The current outbreak started in January in one yard before spreading to other places because control measures were perhaps not being taken seriously enough”.

He added that mortality due to Strangles is “extremely low” .

Jane Gough-Roberts, of Dyfnog Stud Farm in Llanrhaeadr, where horses have not been affected, said she believes the outbreak has “been blown out of proportion”.

She said: “As long as people are careful and exercise precautions and don't go from one horse to another it is ok. 

“People are panicking but a lot of what is happening is hearsay and gossip and it appears much worse than it is.”

Sharon Newell, of Pwllglas, added that many shows she would go to had been cancelled.

“It's disappointing that events and shows are cancelled for the time being but it's necessary and for the best to in order to prevent further spread of this horrible disease.” 

A Welsh Government spokesperson said that Strangles was not a notifiable disease.

“We are aware of reports of a serious outbreak of strangles in North Wales and encourage all horse owners to heed the advice of their private vet and industry by applying strict biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of the disease spreading.  

“Minimising movements is key, and where horses are being transported care should be taken to minimise contact, and to thoroughly cleanse and disinfect equipment. 

“Strangles is not a notifiable disease of horses and so does not have to be reported to government. Any owner of horses who is concerned should talk to their private vet.”

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