The FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group has been formed to monitor the evolution of the EHV-1 outbreak and provide specialist advice on its management and preventive measures for the future.
The Group is composed of leading EHV experts Professor Ann Cullinan (IRL), Dr Richard Newton (GBR) and Dr Gittan Gröndahl (SWE), the FEI Veterinary Director Dr Göran Åkerström and FEI Senior Veterinary Advisor Dr Caterina Termine, supported by Dr Jenny Hall, Chair of the FEI Veterinary Committee.
The key areas that the Group is working on are:
Reports and recommendations from this Group will be published on this page on a weekly basis.
19 March 2021
The FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group, whose individual members have been working with the FEI since the start of the EHV-1 outbreak, held its first formal meeting on 18 March 2021 to discuss virus gene typing, the evolution of the outbreak, return to competition protocols and preventive measures.
The Group discussed epidemiological links between events where positive cases have been reported, and further known transmission of the disease at horses’ home stables. The need for improved network tracing was identified, which would require the FEI being granted a greater jurisdiction at FEI events in the event of an EHV outbreak.
The Group noted that EHV is an endemic disease worldwide and is notifiable in only a few countries. Concern was raised that should the disease become notifiable in more countries it could lead to reduced reporting, meaning that outbreaks could become more difficult to manage.
Expected future risks
Regarding the evolution of the outbreak, the Group agreed that the following risk factors could be expected within the next two weeks:
Resumption of Competition
The Group determined that safe resumption of competition involves two key areas: conditions for entry and the management of horses within the venue.
Many rules are already in place to support these measures.
Laboratory analysis of samples
Several laboratories in Europe have analysed PCR positive samples from horses that returned from competitions in Spain. The virus identified does not have the N752D amino acid substitution in the DNA polymerase that has been shown in the past to be associated with neurological disease. Work on identifying the clade or genetic group to which this virus belongs is ongoing and will assist in tracking the spread of the virus and differentiating it from many other strains of EHV-1 in circulation.
The Group’s next meeting is scheduled for 25 March 2021.
26 March 2021
The FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group held the second of its weekly meetings on 25 March, with the key focus of the meeting on fine-tuning the Return To Competition protocols which will allow for a safe resumption of international sport in mainland Europe.
The Group reviewed the required biosecurity measures, focusing particularly on PCR testing, examination on arrival, stabling and temperature monitoring.
Resumption of Competition
It was agreed by the Group that there is currently no evidence indicating that it would be unsafe to return to international competition in mainland Europe as planned on 12 April, provided the mandated enhanced preventive measures are implemented. However, the Group will continue to monitor the evolution of the outbreaks on a daily basis.
The outbreak appears to be well-contained following updates from National Federations. The reported case numbers seem to be reducing and there have been no reports of disease transmission to tertiary premises within the last week.
The Group was advised that the FEI will provide financial support for the ongoing scientific work around laboratory analysis of positive samples for gene typing.
Plans are being drawn up for data collection in order to further research the outbreaks. In addition, it was agreed to source data to determine whether mandatory vaccination has reduced EHV outbreaks in France
Internal medicines specialist Dr Anne Courouce, who was assigned by the French National Federation to support the veterinary work in Valencia, is now supporting the Group with her expertise.
The Group’s next meeting is scheduled for 30 March 2021.
30 March 2021
The FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group held the third of its weekly meetings, focusing on the current situation with the virus in mainland Europe, mandatory EHV vaccination in France for racehorses and the elements that need to be considered when declaring an EHV outbreak.
Current situation and Return To Competition
There have been no reports of new neurological cases linked to Spain in the past week and the Group agreed that the situation remains under control. The FEI is following up on a number of cases in Luxembourg to see if these are linked to Spain, but otherwise there is no change from last week.
The laboratories have advised that, to date, there is no evidence that this is novel virus.
The Group supported the Return To Competition measures taken and welcomed their publication.
Mandatory EVH vaccination programme in French racehorses
Mandatory EHV vaccination was introduced in 2018 for racehorses in France and for trotters the following year, although trotter broodmares have been under mandatory EHV vaccination since 2015. The French trotting governing body, Le Trot, believes that there are less abortions, with only sporadic cases. Starting this year, racehorses and trotters in France must be vaccinated as yearlings.
The Group was advised that it is still too early in the programme to have reliable data, but that some background figures should be available soon.
The FEI Veterinary Director has requested information from the US Equestrian Federation (USEF), which imposed mandatory vaccinations in 2018 on a national basis.
Criteria on how to declare an outbreak of EHV
To support the FEI’s legal position when declaring an outbreak of EHV, the Group discussed the elements that need to be considered when declaring an outbreak. It was agreed that this requires further discussion and it will be included on the agenda for next week’s meeting.
The Group’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 April 2021.
7 April 2021
The FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group held the fourth of its weekly meetings.
The Group discussed the current situation with the virus in mainland Europe and globally available vaccines, and reviewed the list of laboratories recommended by National Head Veterinarians that can conduct PCR testing in line with the FEI’s Return To Competition measures. There was also discussion on the turnaround time for test results, depending on the capacity of the laboratory and other factors such as public holidays.
There are no known new outbreaks linked to the Spanish events and, in the view of the Group, there are no indications that it is not safe to resume competition in mainland Europe as planned on 12 April provided the mandated biosecurity measures are in place.
The Group discussed the situation in the USA, where vaccination is mandatory at a national level, and France, where there is a proposal to make it mandatory for sport horses. However, a National Federation can only impose mandatory vaccination at national level.
The FEI Veterinary Directory is continuing to meet with the pharmaceutical industry to discuss vaccines. There had been some reported interruptions in the supply chain, but the availability of EHV vaccines within Europe will be substantially improved by next month.
Return To Competition
The Group was advised that the Return To Competition measures had been well received, and had generated many questions, including requests from Organisers to approve stabling solutions for their events. The Group agreed that there was scientific merit in getting additional expertise in the methods of stabling horses, particularly with regard to configuration, in order to minimise exposure for the future.
Stable-side EHV-1 testing
The Group discussed the efficacy of stable-side EHV-1 testing systems. A number of companies have contacted the FEI about supplying these machines. The OIE Reference Laboratory at the Irish Equine Centre has offered to provide proficiency testing kits for these systems.
The Group continued its discussion on the elements that need to be considered when declaring an EHV outbreak and this will be included as an agenda item for the next meeting.
The Group’s next meeting is scheduled for 15 April 2021.