Major breakthrough in battle against Strangles

A new diagnostic blood test has been developed to combat the virulent horse disease Strangles.

The breakthrough has come after four years of research by scientists at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket.

The development of the test is part of the campaign ‘Breaking the Strangles Hold’, launched by the Animal Health Trust and The British Horse Society in February last year by the AHT’s President HRH The Princess Royal.

It has two main aims: to raise awareness among owners, riders and anyone involved in the health and welfare of horses, and to generate funds to support the vital research in the ongoing battle to eradicate the disease.

The blood test identifies horses that have recently been exposed to Strangles, enabling it to be nipped in the bud.

Oliver Wilson, campaign director at The British Horse Society, said: “It is fantastic news. This big breakthrough is a real boon to horse owners and I believe will lead to a significant drop in Strangles outbreaks. But there is still much to be done.

“The AHT’s work to develop and test a fully effective vaccine against Strangles is ongoing. To support it we need to raise another £120,000 by the end of this year to reach the campaign target of £250,000.”

The Horse Trust’s Chief Executive Brigadier Paul Jepson said: “We are delighted our funding for this project has been so fruitful. This represents major progress in our battle to reduce the suffering caused by this common and debilitating disease.”

Peter Webbon, Chief Executive of the Animal Health Trust, said: “Our research scientists have a particular interest in the diagnosis and prevention of Strangles and the development of this diagnostic test is a major milestone. Huge thanks go to all of those who have supported the campaign.”

Strangles is the most commonly diagnosed infectious horse disease around the world. It can prove fatal. Clinical signs include fever, profuse nasal discharge and abscessed lymph nodes of the head and neck. The swelling of these lymph nodes may, in severe cases, restrict the airway, hence the name ‘Strangles’.

The blood test is ideal for screening horses prior to movement, competition or sales and will be available from 1 March this year.

The next big step is to produce a new effective vaccine, which would be a major breakthrough in protecting horses and ponies around the world.

The campaign needs public support. Ways to help include making a donation, holding a fundraising event, keeping a collection box or buying a ‘Breaking the Strangles Hold’ polo shirt.

Clothing brand Puffa has teamed up with the campaign and produced a range of polo shirts to help raise funds (www.puffa.com). The campaign is also being supported by Horse & Hound magazine.