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Free of Infection | Spring 2015 Out Here Magazine

Coggins test provides peace of mind from Equine Infectious Anemia danger

woman holding the lead standing in front of a horse
Out Here

By Colleen Creamer

Photography by iStock

If you decide to take part in a weekend trail ride with 50 other horses in a nearby state, compete in a rodeo, or take your horse to any kind of equine event, don't bother loading tack or any other supplies unless you have one all-important piece of paper: results of a negative Coggins test.

This signifies that your horse has been tested and is free of Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), also commonly known as '"Swamp Fever," a highly contagious, potentially deadly, disease transmitted from mosquito bites and other infected horses.

Casual horse owners, particularly those who rarely take their horse off their property, are sometimes unaware of the test, which is mandatory at nearly all horse events, because they aren't a part of a traditional show or racing circuit where the requirements for documentation are well understood.

But horses are now on the move all year long, and this transience poses more of a risk for the horse population as a whole, says Rusty Ford, Equine Programs manager for the Office of State Veterinarian in Kentucky.

"The fact is, you get your horse tested to be able to demonstrate that your horse does not impose a risk of disease transmission," Ford says, "and, in turn, you know the other horses that are coming to the same event have also been tested."

Cost of the test varies but hovers around $45, and can be done by your veterinarian. EIA has an acute phase where the horse is clearly ill and showing signs of fever, lethargy, and weight loss. But even without symptoms, horses can transmit the disease to other horses.

"Horses that are carriers have a virus in their systems, and even though they don't exhibit clinical symptoms, they pose the risk of transmission of disease, as well," Ford explains.

In fact, most horses found to be positive for EIA by routine test are "inapparent carriers," showing no overt clinical abnormalities as a result of infection, according to the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Horse owners in general should bear in mind that any time they move their horses, or go to places where horses are congregating, there is going to be a risk of disease, Ford says.

"The easiest thing to do to is practice good hygiene," Ford says. "You don't share equipment, such as bridles, and try to minimize any use of communicable water supplies where horses dip their head into a bucket to get a drink, and the next horse goes to that same bucket."

Getting the test done is relatively easy, Ford says.

"You can get a test done with results in as little as two or three hours," he says. "Generally, if you're having to have the vet come out to collect the sample, they send the sample to the lab."

An authorized veterinarian must perform the test, Ford says, because it's a USDA-accredited test, and samples must be collected correctly.

"Equine infectious anemia is a disease that your veterinarian will be familiar with, and if your horse has not been tested, or just as importantly if he has been in an environment where transmission may a greater risk," Ford says, "then it might be time to call your vet."

Colleen Creamer is a Tennessee writer.


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