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African Horse Sickness: mapping how a deadly disease might spread in the UK

last modified May 27, 2016 12:11 PM
A disease lethal to horses, until now confined to hot countries, could arrive in the UK. New research creates a picture of its possible spread and pinpoints the area that would be worse hit.

As its name suggests, African Horse Sickness (AHS) is associated with the continent of Africa, where it is feared as a deadly disease. It has long been assumed by British veterinarians and horse-owners that the disease, which is carried by midges, could not spread to cooler northern climates.

But researchers now think that its arrival in northern Europe could be only a matter of time – and perhaps more importantly, that it could spread if it did arrive.

A study undertaken by scientists at the University of Cambridge Department of Veterinary Medicine, in collaboration with the Animal Health Trust and The Pirbright Institute, shows how dangerous it could be for the horse and pony population if AHS was introduced into the UK. The research also identified which regions would be worst hit at different times of the year. 

This information could be vital to strategies for coping with an outbreak if it arrived. The study also emphasises the importance of the continued exclusion of the disease.

The research was led by Dr Gianni Lo Iacono, a multidisciplinary scientist whose expertise lies in the mathematical modelling of a range of problems related to the interface between biology and physics. He worked with a team of colleagues from complementary fields including Professor James Wood, a renowned specialist in infectious diseases.

Most strikingly, East Anglia emerges from the study as the region that is most vulnerable to AHS spread which could occur if the disease was not identified early enough for action to be taken to contain it.

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