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Equine Infectious Anemia What You Need To Know Answers to the most common questions and myths about EIA, for horse owners What is EIA?
Equine infectious anemia (EIA), also known as The EIA virus is transmitted on the mouth parts
"swamp fever," is a viral disease of horses and of horseflies and deerflies when they feed on an
other equids (i.e. donkeys, mules, and zebras) that infected horse, and then feed on another horse causes recurrent episodes of fever, lethargy and within a fairly short period (approximately four destruction of red blood cells (anemia) and hours).7,8 Stable flies can also transmit the virus, platelets (thrombocytopenia). but not as easily.9,10 There is no evidence that the The EIA virus is a lentivirus in the family Transmission is much more likely to occur from a Retroviridae, similar to several immunodeficiency horse when it is showing signs of illness, because of viruses in other species, including human the increased amount of virus in the bloodstream; immunodeficiency virus (HIV). These viruses cause however, transmission from persistently infected
persistent, lifelong infection in their hosts by
generating DNA sequences (based on the viral RNA) immunosuppression from steroid therapy (e.g. that become permanently inserted into the DNA of prednisolone, dexamethasone) or other stresses white blood cells. However, unlike other can also lead to increased viral load and illness in a immunodeficiency viruses that cause slowly previously healthy carrier horse.14,15 Foals born to progressive illness, signs of EIA are usually the most EIA-positive mares are unlikely to be infected, severe when a horse is initially infected, and particularly if the mare had no signs of EIA while subsequent episodes of illness gradually become pregnant.1,16 Although foals are susceptible to less severe, even though the horse remains infection after birth, antibodies in the colostrum infected and a potential source of virus for other from the mare appear to offer some protection for horses.1,2 These episodes of overt disease, which the first several months of life.1,17 The virus can
may occur weeks to months apart, are the result of transmitted
mutations that occur in the virus over time, thus transfusions and use of blood-contaminated
creating a novel "strain" that causes clinical signs equipment such as surgical and dental instruments,
in the same horse, until its immune system hoof knives and hypodermic needles. The virus can responds and is once again able to suppress the survive for up to four days on a hypodermic needle virus.3-6 Other clinical signs of EIA may include
at room temperature.11,18,19 swelling (edema) of the limbs and abdomen, rapid weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, and abnormal There is no treatment available that will allow a
bleeding tendencies. Infection may also lead to horse to fully eliminate the EIA virus from its body neurological signs (ataxia), abortion, or rarely once infected, nor is a vaccine currently
sudden death. It is not unusual for an EIA-infected commercially available. The virus poses no risk to
horse to have no history of illness due to EIA, humans or other non-equid animals. The disease especially since mild episodes (e.g. mild fever and occurs in horses all over the world, but there are
anemia for a few days) may go undiagnosed. many countries (including Canada) where the
prevalence of infection is very low, primarily due Why is there a control program
to ongoing control programs. Some countries (not Canada) have even more strict eradication for EIA in Canada, but not for
other equine diseases?
Examples of countries that have active EIA surveillance and control programs include Canada, characteristics that make control of this disease in USA and France.7 Canada feasible: • The virus has no wildlife reservoir, other than Examples of countries that are considered free of wild equids, which have a very limited range in EIA include Japan, Chile and Iceland.20 Examples of countries where EIA is considered • Effective tests are available that can clearly endemic include Romania and Italy.7 uninfected animals. For a full list of countries where EIA has been reported, and those with general and targeted straightforward; even though the virus is surveillance programs, visit the World Animal
transmitted by an insect vector, this only Health Information Database (WAHID) website
occurs over relatively short distances, during maintained by the OIE (World Organization for particular times of the year, and almost all Animal Health) at: other transmission is due to human practices (e.g. reusing needles). • The prevalence of EIA is sufficiently low that taking strict action with the small number of Does EIA kill horses?
affected horses (i.e. removing them from the population) effectively protects the entire
Yes. While the majority of horses survive initial
national herd, as well as horses that may travel infection with EIA, a small proportion develop very to and from Canada for sale, competition or severe acute anemia and other signs of illness which can be fatal. In some persistently infected horses, disease episodes may become more • Infection with EIA has long-term repercussions frequent and severe, resulting in debilitating for any horse that becomes infected, as the chronic anemia, thrombocytopenia (low platelet virus is never entirely eliminated from the body, count), edema (swelling) and weight loss, which and the animal remains a risk to other equids as may lead to euthanasia.2 a virus reservoir. A similar control program is not logical or practical can drop below the for other equine diseases that spread more easily, level of detection of are common in the horse population and/or can be the test, even though effectively eliminated by an infected horse such the horse is infected. that there is no long-term risk. The equine industry negotiated to have Canada's EIA control were very recently program put in place. As an OIE-listed disease, it is infected (i.e. within a internationally expected that measures of this kind few weeks of being are taken to prevent the spread of EIA within (and tested) may not yet have from) the country. The program is administered by produced a sufficient amount of antibodies to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which test positive (this usually takes about three is responsible for the control of all federally weeks, but in some cases may take up to three reportable animal diseases. months7). A test that can detect very small amounts of antibody, and therefore decreases How good are the tests for EIA?
the risk of a false-negative result, is said to be very sensitive. All commercially available tests for EIA are based • Rarely, a horse may produce antibodies against on detecting antibodies to the EIA virus in blood.
something that is not the EIA virus, but the None of them detect the virus directly; tests for antibodies are so similar to EIA antibodies that the EIA virus itself (including pony inoculation, the test is "tricked," thus producing a positive virus isolation in cell culture and real-time RT-PCR) result for a horse that is in fact EIA-negative. A are used for research purposes, but are test that will react with only EIA antibodies, prohibitively difficult to perform and too expensive and therefore decreases the risk of a false- to use for routine testing.2,9 Because the EIA virus positive result, is said to be very specific. can never be completely eliminated (even if it only • In very rare cases, a horse with clinical signs of replicates at a very low level), any horse that has
EIA may have enough virus in its blood to bind produced antibodies to EIA also carries the virus.
all the available antibodies, resulting in a negative antibody test.9 There are a few circumstances that can produce misleading results with these kinds of antibody The first test for EIA was developed in the early 1970s by Leroy Coggins, and became known as the • Young foals may acquire antibodies to EIA from Coggins test.3 It is an agar gel immunodiffusion
their mares via colostrum. Although many foals test (AGID) that detects the presence of EIA of EIA-positive mares are virus-negative at antibodies in a horse's bloodstream. Later on the weaning,1 they are at risk of exposure to the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for EIA virus due to their close proximity to the was developed,12 which is more sensitive but not as positive mare, therefore additional quarantine specific as the AGID (i.e. the ELISA can detect and testing may be needed after the foal is smaller amounts of antibody so it is less likely to weaned and is at least six months old, in order miss a positive horse (false negative), but it is to determine if the animal is producing its own slightly more likely to misdiagnose a negative horse antibodies against EIA. (false positive)). that receive blood or plasma transfusions from EIA-positive horses will also A very recent study14 clearly demonstrated that passively acquire EIA antibodies. However, it is some equids, particularly mules with positive ELISA highly likely in such a case that the blood test results but weak positive or even negative product would also contain the virus itself, AGID test results, still had highly variable amounts resulting in infection of the transfusion of virus in their blood over time, meaning they do recipient. As little as 250 mL of blood, even not necessarily pose a lower risk for virus from a healthy EIA-positive horse, is sufficient transmission. These results suggest that using the to transmit the virus.3 AGID test alone for screening horses may miss some • The amount of antibodies produced by animals that are still an infectious risk to others, individual horses can be quite variable, and which is another reason horses in Canada are first particularly in animals that have a low viral screened with the ELISA test. The AGID remains load for a long period of time, antibody levels the internationally-recognized confirmatory test.
Table 1: Tests currently used in the diagnosis of equine infectious anemia infection.
Used by CFIA
Previously primary Confirmatory test (Coggins)
screening test; still used to confirm ELISA results Primary screening (cELISA)
test in many areas; (Vira-CHEK ELISA)
positive results (SA-ELISA II)
should be confirmed with AGID Western blot
Not a screening test, can be ordered by authorities as a supplemental test if other test results are contradictory PCR16,17
Can be ordered by authorities as a (research tool only) supplemental test if other test results are contradictory, to confirm clinical cases, or to test foals from infected mares isolation /
typically only used for research AGID = agar gel immunodiffusion test cELISA = competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay SA-ELISA = synthetic antigen enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, detects antibodies to two different EIA antigens (p26 and gp45 transmembrane protein) PCR = polymerase chain reaction (reported sensitivity approximately 80% (Dr. Simard, personal communication via Dr. C. James)). What happens in Canada when a
sample handling errors can occur. The horse tests positive for EIA?
likelihood of both the ELISA tests and the AGID test producing a false-positive result is All EIA testing in Canada is performed at CFIA- extremely remote, therefore the main reason approved laboratories only. If a horse tests for re-testing at this stage is to ensure that the positive (even a weak positive) at one of these horse and sample were correctly identified. laboratories, the following sequence of events takes place: • The positive sample is sent to the CFIA EIA National Reference Laboratory in St. Hyacinthe, QC, where the ELISA test is repeated • If the second ELISA test is also positive, then the AGID test is performed. • If the AGID test is also positive, the horse is considered a confirmed positive case.
If the results of re-testing the confirmed positive By law, CFIA must take the following mandatory case are the same, or if no re-test is requested, actions for any confirmed positive case of EIA: then steps must be taken to ensure that the virus can never be transmitted to other horses. 1. Quarantine:
immediately be quarantined from all other • If the horse has overt signs of EIA, the CFIA
horses and equids (minimum 200 m distance at will order the horse to be humanely euthanized, all times due to the risk of transmission from because horses with clinical signs have high insects such as horseflies and deerflies). All levels of virus in their blood and are therefore a other horses that were within 200 metres of the much greater risk to other horses in terms of positive horse within the last 30 days must also being a reservoir for transmission of the virus.4- be quarantined 18,19, regardless of whether they are on the same or an adjoining property, or if • If the horse is healthy, there are two options:
they were moved to another property elsewhere in that time. 1. Lifetime quarantine: The horse must be
quarantined for the remainder of its life, 2. Testing of other horses: The other horses that
keeping it at least 200 metres from any EIA- were within 200 metres of the positive horse negative horse. In the US, in addition to are considered "potentially exposed" and must quarantine, a brand or a lip tattoo is also be tested for EIA. Because horses can take typically applied to permanently identify a few weeks to either show signs of illness the horse as an EIA "reactor". The horse and/or to produce antibodies after being also cannot be moved from the premises at exposed to the virus, potentially exposed any time except under special permit in a horses must be tested at least once 45 days or sealed trailer to either a research or more after their last exposure to the EIA- slaughter facility, or its home farm 8,18. positive horse before the quarantine is lifted. In Canada, horses may also be tested at the 2. Euthanasia: If a horse must be euthanized
beginning of the quarantine period if further due to EIA infection, the CFIA will pay transmission of the virus could occur within the compensation to the owner up to a group of quarantined horses (e.g. during fly maximum of $2000 per animal. season) . In the US, the same process applies, but horses must be tested twice and the tests must be at least 60 days apart (i.e. at the Although this may seem extreme, these
beginning and end of the quarantine period)2,18. steps help to protect every horse with which
the infected animal may otherwise come
3. Re-testing the positive horse: If the positive
horse has no detectable clinical signs of EIA, into contact over the course of its lifetime,
the CFIA will re-test the horse, if requested. as well as all the horses with which those
The implications of being EIA-positive for the animals may come into contact, and so on.
horse are significant, but no test is perfect, and Why do horses that are confirmed
In Canada, testing for EIA is voluntary (and positive for EIA have to be
therefore paid for by horse owners), but the response when an EIA-positive horse is identified permanently quarantined or
(quarantine or euthanasia) is mandatory, and enforced by the CFIA, because this is the program that was established at the request of the equine Although the risk of transmission from EIA-positive industry. As a federally reportable disease under horses that are not showing signs of disease is low, the Health of Animals Regulations 15,19, all it is not zero 10,21,22, and the disease is suspected or confirmed cases of EIA must be unpredictable. An infected horse can have virus reported to the CFIA. circulating in its bloodstream at any time, and if the horse's immune system becomes weakened from stress, pregnancy, drug therapy or other diseases, the amount of virus in its bloodstream can increase, and the horse may show signs of EIA 11,23,24. In order to eradicate the virus, these reservoirs need to be eliminated (euthanized) or separated from all other susceptible animals (quarantined) in order to ensure the transmission cycle is broken. What would happen if Canada
If every infected horse infected just one new
horse in its lifetime, EIA would continue to
stopped testing for EIA?
survive in the equine population indefinitely.
• The virus would likely spread within the If some of those horses manage to infect more than Canadian horse population from the small one new horse, then the infection will gradually number of EIA-positive horses that are already become more and more common, making it harder present in the country. The spread would likely to keep EIA-negative horses from being exposed. It be very slow at first, but as more horses has been shown that if horses are at least 48 became infected the speed of spread would metres (160 feet) apart, 99% of horseflies will rapidly increase. Clinical illness due to EIA, continue to feed on the same animal rather than including debilitating or potential fatal fly to a different horse if their feeding is infections, would also become more common. interrupted 13,25. • As a result of this increased risk of EIA, people Separating infected horses from other horses by
might stop bringing their horses to events in at least 200 metres therefore effectively
minimizes the risk of EIA transmission by these
• Other countries that are trying to control or eradicate EIA would still require a negative EIA test in order for horses from Canada to cross The ability to effectively control EIA exists
their borders. In the worst case, some because the prevalence is currently low, such
countries may stop allowing horses from Canada that only a relatively small number of EIA-positive to be imported altogether due to the increased horses would need to be euthanized or quarantined risk that the animals may be carrying EIA, in order to protect the entire current and future which may infect the resident population. equine population. EIA occurs in horses all over the world, but there are many countries where the prevalence of infection is very low, primarily due to ongoing control programs. The equine industry negotiated to have Canada's EIA control program put in place. As an OIE-listed disease, it is internationally expected that measures of this kind are taken to prevent the spread of EIA within (and from) the country. Can horses be vaccinated against
What can I do to protect my horse
There is currently no commercially available
1. The best way to protect your horse from EIA is vaccine against EIA in North America or Europe.
to avoid exposure to EIA-positive horses; because many EIA-positive horses look healthy One of the controversies with developing a vaccine most of the time, a strong testing and reporting against EIA is ensuring that vaccinated horses can program is needed. be distinguished from infected horses. If the antibodies produced following vaccination are • Whenever possible, ensure that all horses identical to those produced by natural infection, that come within 200 metres of your horse current tests will no longer be suitable for are tested for EIA. This includes only taking detecting EIA carriers, and spread of the virus your horse to shows and events where all through the population could be "masked" in the horses are required to be tested for EIA wake of widespread vaccination. before being allowed on the premises, and requiring testing of any new horses coming Developing an effective vaccine against a lentivirus to your property or boarding facility. such as EIA is extremely challenging. Many of the 2. Control horseflies, deerflies and stable flies on same problems have been encountered in the and around your horse at all times, and efforts to develop a vaccine for HIV in humans, especially at any large gathering of horses, as which is a related virus. An attenuated live these are the natural means of transmission of vaccine for EIA was developed in the early 1970s EIA between horses. Insect control includes and was used extensively in China from 1975-1990. appropriate use of repellants and insecticides, The vaccine was effective for reducing the as well as management of manure and prevalence of the disease, but now that the environmental moisture to discourage insect prevalence is low, use of this vaccine has been quarantine/slaughter strategy, and to avoid the 3. Ensure that any blood products (including testing complications that can occur with vaccine plasma) given to your horse are from EIA- use, as described above 1,9. Use of a live vaccine of negative donors. Do not reuse hypodermic this kind comes with additional risks, because needles, and any medical equipment (e.g. lentiviruses like EIA (as well as live EIA vaccines) surgical and dental instruments, hoof knives) are very prone to mutation, and they become that may be contaminated with blood must be permanently integrated into the host cells 1,9, thus thoroughly disinfected between uses on creating a small risk of the vaccine strain becoming different horses. The virus is easily killed by a new pathogenic virus. almost any disinfectant if the surface or object is not visibly dirty. The CFIA provides maps showing areas in which horses have been diagnosed with EIA on an annual Prepared by: Maureen E.C. Anderson, basis. Regions where positive horses have been DVM DVSc PhD Dip.ACVIM and J. Scott reported (particularly over several years) would be Weese, DVM DVSc Dip.ACVIM, Dept. considered higher risk for other horses that travel Pathobiology, University of Guelph, ON or live there. These maps are available on the Contributors: Mary Bell, Margaret CFIA website at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/ Harvey, Greg Andrews, Carolyn James under Animals > Terrestrial Animals > Reportable Diseases > Equine infectious anemia. This information sheet can be freely printed and distributed so long as A shorter version of this information about EIA in Canada is available on the Worms & Germs website under Resources > Horses. Positive horses that are healthy have eliminated the virus
and pose no risk to other horses.
False. Horses that become infected with EIA are infected for life 6,7 - the virus
actually incorporates its genetic code into the DNA of certain cells. It has been shown
that even in animals with no signs of illness, the level of virus in their bloodstream fluctuates over time, and when it increases the virus can be transmitted from these "healthy" equids to other equids via biting flies like horseflies and deerflies, or via blood-contaminated equipment such as hypodermic needles 14,15,20,26. EIA testing is just another scam so veterinarians can make
False. The EIA control program in Canada is in place to help protect the Canadian
equine industry, in terms of the overall health of the national herd, and particularly in
terms of international trade and competition. The program is based on international disease control standards set forth by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) 7,9. Without the control program, many countries would not allow Canadian horses to be imported for breeding, sale or competition, and they would not allow their horses to travel to and back from Canada for the same purposes, due to the risk of EIA spreading to their own animals. The cost of the EIA test paid by owners does not even cover the CFIA's operating costs for the program - this is done as a service to the industry 2,19. EIA tests are not accurate and horses can be euthanized
because of false results.
Mostly false. While no test is perfect, and false results are possible with any test
(including those used for EIA), no healthy horse is ever ordered destroyed based on a single test. In Canada, all EIA-positive samples are tested again with the same test (ELISA) at the EIA National Reference Laboratory, and are then tested a third time with a different test (AGID) to confirm the results. The owner of the horse is then also given the option to have the horse retested (using both the ELISA and the AGID) on a second blood sample. The likelihood that all of these tests would give the same false positive result is extremely remote, so this additional testing ensures that only truly positive horses are euthanized or quarantined. EIA is only found in wild or feral horses and does not affect
False. The EIA virus can infect any equid (e.g. horse, donkey, mule, zebra), feral or
domestic. The vast majority of cases diagnosed are in domestic horses that are either travelling or competing, as these are the animals that are tested most frequently. Feral horses are rarely if ever tested due to the difficulty of obtaining blood samples, therefore it is extremely difficult to confirm the prevalence of EIA in a population of wild horses. However, because wild horses do not travel outside of their home territory, they can only be infected by insects that have fed on other (domestic) equids that live nearby, and likewise they can only spread the virus, via the same insects, to other nearby horses. Therefore domestic horses that live in proximity to
wild herds can act as sentinels of infection in the feral animals, and controlling
EIA in the domestic population will also help prevent introduction of the disease
into wild herds, where it would be much more difficult to eradicate (and could
serve as a reservoir for infecting more domestic horses).
anaemia? Vet Microbiol 2013;165:123–134. 1. Issel CJ, Adams WV, Foil LD. Prospective study of 15. Cordes T, Issel CJ. Equine Infectious Anemia. United progeny of inapparent equine carriers of equine States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant infectious anemia virus. Am J Vet Res 1985;46:1114– Health Inspection Service; 1996:1–20. 16. Nagarajan MM, Simard C. Detection of horses 2. Mealey RH. Equine infectious anemia. In: Long MT, infected naturally with equine infectious anemia virus Sellon DC, eds. Equine Infectious Diseases. St. Louis, by nested polymerase chain reaction. J Virol Methods MO: Saunders; 2007:213–219. 2001;94:97–109. 3. Coggins L, Norcross NL, Nusbaum SR. Diagnosis of 17. Cook RF, Cook SJ, Li FL, et al. Development of a equine infectious anemia by immunodiffusion test. Am J multiplex real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase Vet Res 1972;33:11–18. chain reaction for equine infectious anemia virus (EIAV). J Virol Methods 2002;105:171–179. 4. Montelaro RC, Parekh B, Orrego A, et al. Antigenic variation during persistent infection by equine infectious 18. USDA - APHIS. Equine Infectious Anemia: Uniform anemia virus, a retrovirus. J Biol Chem 1984;259:10539– Methods and Rules. 2007. Available at: 5. Kono Y. Antigenic variation of equine infectious anemia virus as detected by virus neutralization. Brief 19. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Equine Infectious report. Arch Virol 1988;98:91–97. Anemia Control Program. wwwinspectiongcca 2012. Available at: 6. Cheevers WP, McGuire TC. Equine infectious anemia virus: immunopathogenesis and persistence. Rev Infect Dis 1985;7:83–88. 7. Maanen CV. Progressive control of equine infectious anaemia through more accurate diagnosis. Veterinary 20. Center for Food Security and Public Health. Equine Record 2013;172:208–209. Infectious Anemia. 2009:1–4. 8. Hawkins JA, Adams WV, Wilson BH, et al. 21. Issel CJ, Coggins L. Equine infectious anemia: Transmission of equine infectious anemia virus by current knowledge. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1979;174:727– Tabanus fuscicostatus. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1976;168:63– 22. Issel CJ, Adams WV. Serologic survey for equine 9. World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). infectious anemia virus in Louisiana. J Am Vet Med Assoc Terrestrial Manual. wwwoieint 2013. Available at: 1979;174:286–288. 23. Tumas DB, Hines MT, Perryman LE, et al. Corticosteroid immunosuppression and monoclonal 10. Hawkins JA, Adams WV, Cook L, et al. Role of horse antibody-mediated CD5+ T lymphocyte depletion in fly (Tabanus fuscicostatus Hine) and stable fly (Stomoxys normal and equine infectious anaemia virus-carrier calcitrans L.) in transmission of equine infectious horses. J Gen Virol 1994;75 ( Pt 5):959–968. anemia to ponies in Louisiana. Am J Vet Res 1973;34:1583–1586. 24. Kono Y, Hirasawa K, Fukunaga Y, et al. Recrudescence of equine infectious anemia by 11. Williams DL, Issel CJ, Steelman CD, et al. Studies treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. Natl Inst Anim with equine infectious anemia virus: transmission Health Q (Tokyo) 1976;16:8–15. attempts by mosquitoes and survival of virus on vector mouthparts and hypodermic needles, and in mosquito 25. Foil L. A mark-recapture method for measuring tissue culture. Am J Vet Res 1981;42:1469–1473. effects of spatial separation of horses on tabanid (Diptera) movement between hosts. J Med Entomol 12. Suzuki T, Ueda S, Samejima T. Enzyme-linked 1983;20:301–305. immunosorbent assay for diagnosis of equine infectious anemia. Vet Microbiol 1982;7:307–315. 26. Oaks JL, McGuire TC, Ulibarri C, et al. Equine infectious anemia virus is found in tissue macrophages 13. Issel CJ, Adams WV, Meek L, et al. Transmission of during subclinical infection. J Virol 1998;72:7263–7269. equine infectious anemia virus from horses without clinical signs of disease. J Am Vet Med Assoc Additional resources
1982;180:272–275. McConnell S, Katada M. Transmission of equine 14. Scicluna MT, Issel CJ, Cook FR, et al. Is a diagnostic infectious anaemia virus from a horse negative to agar system based exclusively on agar gel immunodiffusion gel immunodiffusion testing. Equine Vet J 1981;13: 123– adequate for controlling the spread of equine infectious
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