“Treatment without prevention is simply unsustainable”- Bill Gates
So as not to bore you too much, I thought I’d use this short entry to focus on two of my passions in life: infectious diseases and horses. Unless a seasoned equestrian, you’ll probably have never heard of strangles; an upper respiratory infection affecting horses, donkeys and ponies. Strangles is highly contagious and caused by the Streptococcus equi bacteria. Whilst progress has been made to contain the infection in recent years, there has been an unexpected knock-on effect from preventative measures.
General symptoms are unpleasant, however strangles gets its name from large abscesses that develop at the lymph nodes of a victim’s throat. These threaten to rupture and release pus, thereby preventing the horse eating and extending it’s neck. Infected animals must be quarantined with appropriate hygiene precautions in place, until the infection has run it’s course. Most patients require no treatment, however strangles can severely impact animals of extreme age; in which case antibiotics may be prescribed. Up to 10% of animals exposed to strangles will carry the disease furthermore.
Although asymptomatic, carriers pose a problem as S. equi remains in bean-sized amounts in the neck pouch. These areas of dried pus are known as chondriods and permit convenient transmission. Carriers were not known of until recently; leading to the introduction of compulsory horse testing before moving location. Great right? Well yes, unless your beloved companion is discovered to be a carrier.
Diagnostic techniques include antibody testing and nasal scopes. Whilst diagnosis seems beneficial all around, compulsory testing has caused controversy. The wider population has been largely protected from infection. However implications have, in some cases, resulted in the euthanasia or abandonment of animals, due to the carrier “status”. Increased education has ensured the equine community is now more open about strangles infections; leading to victims being treated like a bad smell. The advances in strangles containment seem to be positive for vets, owners, farmers and animals alike.
This prevention however, comes at a price (quite literally)… As with everything equestrian, strangles tests are unsurprisingly costly; a compulsory addition to the growing list of expenses for owners. At £50 for a blood antibody test and a further £300 for a scope, would you put your hand in your pocket just to transport an animal? Whilst preventative methods have been positive for reducing the number of cases, expense has acted as a potential deterrent for many prospective owners. The result is a growing number of unwanted animals, many of which are infected with strangles. As abandoned animals are usually left to roam free, despite efforts, treasured pets and livestock will come into contact once more with the infection. It seems like we can’t win; animal testing should be economically feasible for all owners. Is it really surprising that the RSPCA is appealing for help with the horse abandonment crisis?
In this case Bill I feel you should stand corrected; prevention can also be unsustainable.