Horse sickness may delay EU import ban lift

By A'eysha Kassiem

African Horse Sickness has been confirmed in the Worcester and Robertson districts, with a further six cases reported.

Western Cape Veterinary Services chief state vet for the Boland, Gary Buhrmann, said on Monday the latest case was reported on Saturday.

There have also been recent outbreaks in many parts of KwaZulu-Natal, where about 300 cases have been reported.

"It is starting to look like an outbreak in the area as the first incident has not been an isolated case and turned out positive. We have taken samples from the other horses and expect the results tomorrow," said Buhrmann.

He said the new suspected cases were on three farms within 12km of where the first case was reported on a farm on the border of Worcester and Robertson.

"Farms that are either upstream or downstream are at high risk. There are still quarantines in the area and no horses are allowed to move in and out of the area."

Buhrmann said while all of the infected horses were being treated, the problem was that they had not been vaccinated, which increased the risk of death to between 60 percent and 80 percent.

The horses were also not kept in stables at night, making them vulnerable to midges, which spread the disease. The department of agriculture has since called on farmers to keep their horses indoors and use insect repellents.

"It is very difficult to contain the disease because we do not have control over midges. We are urging farmers to vaccinate their horses as soon as possible," said Buhrmann.

According to him, the first case was reported on March 30, when the horse had to be put down. The next suspected cases were reported on April 12 and April 15.

He said the European Union was monitoring the situation because it had been considering lifting an existing ban on the importation of South African horses. "We have had to inform them of how the matter is progressing," Buhrmann said.

The EU's two-year ban was imposed after an outbreak of African Horse Sickness in 2004.

South Africa was entitled to make an application for this to be lifted after March 28 - two years after the last clinical case of the disease was reported.

But Western Cape Veterinary Services acting chief, James Kitching, said earlier that they had not as yet received notification.

Mike Modisane, assistant director general for food, animal health and disaster management in Durban was quoted in Business Report as saying that while the EU had indicated its decision to lift the ban by phone, they might ask the EU to hold off on announcing a decision until the situation had been resolved in the Western Cape.

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