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What Is Equine Infectious Anemia (A.K.A. Swamp Fever)?

Equine infectious anemia is a contagious illness that is not limited to horse populations in the United States, but is instead found around the globe. Commonly referred to as “swamp fever,” this disease is aptly named because it occurs most frequently in areas of heightened humidity as well as temperature.

To diagnose this condition you need to have an EIA blood test done on your animal which checks for antibodies. As a matter of fact, organized events and even the transportation of a horse across the state lines are reason enough for a test to be required; you may only transport your animal if the test is returned negative. A positive test unfortunately will require you to isolate your horse from others and thus many owners opt to euthanize the animal. Sadly, at this point there is neither a cure nor a vaccine available to rid your horse of this illness.
The transmission of the virus that causes equine infectious anemia has been known since the year 1904. It was then linked to pests which live on the lifeblood of the horses. Perhaps the most common culprit is the horsefly. Known as a large insect with a painful bite, a horse plagued by these pests will use its tail and twitching movements to interrupt the fly from completing its meal and sending it on its way. If a horsefly has been feeding on a horse infected with EIA and is then scared off, it will probably fly to another horse to complete its feeding. At that time it will also transmit the virus that causes EIA to the other horse.
You may be able to tell if your horse is affected by any one of the three forms of clinical EIA:
  1. During the early presentation of the disease the horse will be feverish and somewhat uncoordinated. A horse may show these kinds of symptoms for a number of days. This is incidentally also the most likely phase of transmission to another horse.
  2. Following the initial phase you will be able to notice a sudden loss of weight, more fever, and an overall display of weakness. This will also be the stage at which a veterinarian will be able to diagnose anemia. Pregnant mares will most likely abort their foals.
  3. The third and final stage of the condition will see the horse returning to normal, yet it will be a lifelong carrier of the disease. In addition to the foregoing, these horses are very likely to be more susceptible to illness and stress related conditions.

Sadly, many horses will die during the first two stages. This condition is so common, that is has been known to run rampant on breeding farms and even race tracks, resulting in the losses of many animals. Since the illness so highly contagious, new horses should always be quarantined until a blood test checking for antibodies can be performed, and hopefully yield negative results.

Read the next horse diseases article on Equine Protozoa Myelitis (EPM).
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