Farm Ireland

Thursday 27 October 2016

'Not a week goes by that I do not receive a phone call about Strangles from a concerned owner'

Published 16/12/2015 | 02:30

Professor Tom Buckley is head of the microbiology unit at the Irish Equine Centre
Professor Tom Buckley is head of the microbiology unit at the Irish Equine Centre

Up to 5,000 blood samples from horses will be tested for diseases at the Irish Equine Centre during the course of the thoroughbred breeding season which kicks off in the coming weeks.

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Headed by Professor Tom Buckley since 1987, the microbiology unit is one of the most advanced of its kind in Europe and can accommodate anything up to 30,000 samples each year.

"Naturally the breeding season is a busy time for us," Buckley said, "but in fact we are busy all year-round as we also cater for sport horses, including eventers and show jumpers, as well as harness racing." Goffs Sales is also a major client.

Blood samples taken from a large number of horses each year are routinely tested for banned substances, while Prof Buckley's team also specialise in testing for diseases such as Strangles, Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA), Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA) and Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM).

A transmissible, exotic, venereal disease which affects thoroughbreds more severely than half-breds, CEM was last detected in Ireland 2012.

Equine infectious anaemia (EIA) or swamp fever is caused by a lentivirus related to human immunodeficiency virus which causes AIDs in people. No cases of EIA have been detected in Ireland since 2006, however, the disease remains a problem in some EU member states and sporadic incursions have been reported in the UK.

EVA can cause reduced fertility to severe disease with abortion in pregnant mares and death of young foals. While exotic to Ireland there have been the occasional incursions from countries where it is endemic.

Strangles, however, continues to be endemic in Ireland, says Prof Buckley: "Not a week goes by that I do not receive a phone call from a concerned owner."

Strangles is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by Streptococcus equi. It is the most common bacterial infection of horses and early diagnosis is critical.

In recent years Prof Buckley's department has also begun carrying out environmental testing for many of the leading racing yards and studs. "Some trainers will not let a bale of hay or bag of horse feed into the yard unless it has been tested for fungi and certain mycotoxins. Both can also be a major cause of bad performance in racehorses," said Prof Buckley.

Pathogenic fungi and bacteria, when present in large numbers, can greatly affect the respiratory system of a horse and therefore performance.

Aspergillus, which can be present in any harvested food or bedding product and in damp storage areas and boxes, is one of the main causes of RAO (Recurrent Airway Obstruction), EIPH (bleeding) and immune suppression, all of which can greatly affect the performance of the racehorse. Until the pathogen is found and removed, achieving consistency of performance is very difficult.

"A lot of our commercial work now also involves testing of animal feeds for the Department of Agriculture and we are the principal laboratory used by DAFM to undertake microscopic analysis for the presence of products of animal origin in feed materials and compound feeds."

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