Scientists have detected the first ever recorded cases of a virus in horses in this country.
A new study has confirmed the presence of equine coronavirus or ECoV which first broke out at a draft horse racetrack in Japan in 2009, affecting more than 130 horses.
The study carried out by the Irish Equine Centre reported that five samples collected from two adult horses, two thoroughbred foals, and a donkey foal in Clare, Cork, and Kildare in recent years have tested positive for the disease.
The clinical signs associated with the infection during recent outbreaks in the US and Japan were fever, anorexia, lethargy, and diarrhoea. The virus is understood to be most widespread in the US where it has been detected in 48 states while there have been a low number of outbreaks in Japan, France, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Oman.
The study found there are more than 50 thoroughbreds per 10,000 of population in Ireland, compared to between three and five for Britain, France, and the US.
Given the importance of the multibillion euro horse industry in Ireland, the authors suggest that an investigation of ECoV here is pertinent to increase awareness nationally of the virus and to inform the industry globally of the health status of Irish horses.
Dr Ann Cullinane, who coordinated the study, said that only a very small number of positive cases were found herein Ireland.
“Of 424 faeces samples tested, we found only five, which was 1.2%, were positive for ECoV,” she said.
This is similar to the prevalence indicated by comparable studies in France and the UK but much lower than in Kentucky where approximately 30% of both diarrheic and healthy foals tested positive.
The main way horses contract the virus is by ingesting the manure of other infected equines.
The first sample to test positive in this country was collected from a foal suffering from diarrhoea in Kildare in March 2011 while in November of that year a second positive sample was taken from a donkey foal in Cork.
Two other samples were collected on the same day in April 2013 from adult horses on a farm in Clare while the last positive case came from a foal suffering from diarrhoea on a Kildare farm.
The study, which has just been published in a special issue of the Equine Viruses Journal, said one six-week-old foal was the only clinical case on a public thoroughbred stud farm.
The foal’s recovery took more than three weeks during which it received fluid therapy, probiotics, antiulcer medication, and antibiotics.
Dr Cullinane said their research provides the first report of ECoV circulating in Ireland, the third European country with a significant horse industry where the virus has been detected in horses.