What is Equine Infectious Anemia?
Horses are required to be tested for EIA before they can be transported across state lines or entered into horse show events. EIA is transmitted by blood to blood transfer, usually from horsefly bites. EIA can be categorized as acute, sub-acute or chronic. All cases of EIA are often severe and have no known cure.
There have been extensive studies relating human HIV virus with EIA. Both are retroviruses and some researchers are likening EIA with HIV. Some researchers are starting to refer to equine infectious anemia as Equine HIV.
Equine infectious anemia or EIA is an infectious disease in horses. EIA is sometimes referred to as swamp fever or horse malaria. The virus will cause your horse’s red blood cells to deplete, causing anemia. Equine infectious anemia is a reportable disease in the United States. This means that if your horse is diagnosed with EIA, your veterinarian is required to report the diagnosis to the USDA.
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Symptoms of Equine Infectious Anemia in Horses
If you notice your horse exhibiting any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately. Quarantine your horse from other horses, preferably in a completely separate barn from all other horses. An early diagnosis may help keep the rest of your herd, if you have multiple horses, from contracting equine infectious anemia.
- Periodic bouts of high fever
- Petechial hemorrhages
- Depression or listlessness
- Refusal to eat or drink
- Weight loss
- Swelling in the legs, chest or underbody
- Irregular heartbeat
- Jugular pulse becomes defined
- Enlarged spleen
- Decreased athletic performance
Causes of Equine Infectious Anemia in Horses
Equine infectious anemia is spread through blood contaminated items such as the use of needles or syringes that have not been sterilized or through a biting insect that has bitten an infected horse. Horse flies and mosquitoes are the most common biting insects that will transmit equine infectious anemia.
The virus is found in the plasma of infected animals. While the infection has been classified as blood borne, it is essential that all tissues and bodily fluids be treated as potentially infectious.
Diagnosis of Equine Infectious Anemia in Horses
A Coggins test will confirm the presence of the virus antibodies within the blood of your horse. There are new tests becoming more popular that can diagnose EIA called ELISA tests. ELISA stands for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.
In instances when the Coggins test is inconclusive, a Western blot test can be used to help conclusively diagnose equine infectious anemia. Once a positive identification of EIA has been made, your veterinarian is required to report the diagnosis to the USDA.
Treatment of Equine Infectious Anemia in Horses
There have been no vaccines developed for equine infectious anemia. There are also no treatment options for horses diagnosed with EIA. Your veterinarian will discuss your options once they have reported the diagnosis to the USDA. Research is ongoing to develop effective treatments and learn more about equine infectious anemia.
Prevention is the best way to protect your horse. Owners will implement an EIA control plan for their stables and pastures, clean out any shrubs or bushes that attract biting insects. The use of bug zappers will also help to keep these biting insects at bay. Fly spray also helps keep horse flies from biting your horse.
As a routine health program, every horse needs to be tested for EIA every 12 months. If you live in an area where EIA has a high prevalence, testing more often may be necessary. Talk to your veterinarian and set up a prevention plan and testing schedule.
Recovery of Equine Infectious Anemia in Horses
In the United States, if your horse is diagnosed with equine infectious anemia, the USDA will give three options for caring for your horse.
Euthanasia is recommended since there are no known treatments or cures. This is the most commonly chosen option. You can donate your horse to a research facility to help with the advancement of finding effective treatments or possible cure. There are only a limited number of labs that will accept infected horses. By donating your horse to a research facility, you will be helping with the development of a cure or at least a preventative vaccine that will help keep other horses from contracting EIA. The third option is you can build a completely enclosed barn that is covered with a wire mesh that keeps horseflies and other blood-ingesting insects from entering. Your horse must be kept from having any contact with other horses. This is an extremely pricey option for horse owners and in most cases, not an option.