Hundreds of horses dying in KwaZulu-Natal

Horses are dying in their hundreds from an outbreak of African horse sickness and the problem is worsening, the Cape Times website reported on Tuesday.

It said 586 horses in KwaZulu-Natal’s Midlands area and two horses in the Western Cape had died of the disease in the past two months.

KwaZulu-Natal agriculture department spokesperson Vusi Zuma said this year’s outbreak of the sickness was the worst on record.

Boland chief state veterinarian Gary Böhrmann said measures were being taken to curb the spread of the disease.

“Since April, we have placed a ban on horses entering the Western Cape from outbreak areas in [KwaZulu-]Natal. We have been doing this for the last three years,” said Böhrmann.

Authorities and horse owners had expressed concern that the vaccine for the disease did not offer protection against new strains of the virus.

One form of the sickness, strain five, was unprotected by the vaccine, and had appeared in a number of cases across the country.

One of the two horses that died in the Cape had come from KwaZulu-Natal and was diagnosed as carrying strain five.

Veterinarians were currently working on a comprehensive vaccine to effectively protect all horses, Böhrmann said.

African horse sickness is not a contagious disease, but is transmitted by midges that bite infected horses and pass it to healthy ones.

The winter cold kills the midges, hindering their reproduction and allowing for a slowing of any outbreak. Authorities generally wait until the first signs of frost in July to lift travel bans.

South African horse exporters are under a two-year embargo imposed by the European Union last year following an outbreak of African horse sickness.

Böhrmann said the embargo was costing the industry about R50-million a year. - Sapa

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