Hot Literature: Assessing biosecurity at horse boarding facilities

Feb 01, 2011

Department of Agriculture (USDA) have conducted a cross-sectional study looking at the state of biosecurity at Colorado equine boarding facilities and developed a questionnaire for self-evaluation of infectious disease control programs. Veterinarians with extensive experience in this field rated the survey questions for their importance in preventing and containing equine infectious diseases. The potential responses to the questions were then categorized based on these rankings and were assigned point values.

The questionnaire was divided into five categories and addressed demographics, infectious disease incidence, and various methods of disease prevention and control at the selected facilities. More specifically, owners, managers, or trainers were asked about their facilities’ handling and storage of feed, water, manure, and insect and rodent control measures. They were also asked about their use of written health protocols, the movement and housing of horses, including the number and frequency of new horses, infection control and isolation procedures, and any biosecurity policies for both visitors and employees. Furthermore, disease incidences were recorded. The survey was followed by an onsite visit by an observer from the research team who performed a visual assessment of the facility as a comparison to assess the accuracy of the self evaluations.

Most facilities scored well on their practices regarding movement and isolation of horses. Half of the facilities surveyed routinely isolated new horses. The agreement between self evaluation scores and the onsite evaluations ranged from fair to substantial, indicating that the survey design was well-suited for self-evaluation of infectious disease control programs.

However, the overall scores suggested that there are certainly areas for improvement to help prevent and control infectious disease outbreaks at equine boarding facilities. While most facilities provided individual housing for horses, most allowed for some direct contact during turnout. Additionally, while new or ill individuals were often separated, the physical distance of the isolation was insufficient. Rarely were written health protocols in place, and many facilities did not vaccinate for some of the most common infectious diseases (notably strangles).

The benefits of a valid method for self-evaluation of a facility’s infectious disease control measures include highlighting areas for improvement and encouraging equine boarding facility personnel to seek information on control strategies (available at the USDA website and through the American Association of Equine Practitioners, per the published study results). However, as the researchers note, facility managers will have to weigh the cost of implementing more comprehensive biosecurity measures with the economic impact of a disease outbreak before deciding to improve their protocols and procedures.

Kirby AT, Traub-Dargatz JL, Hill AE, et al. Development, application, and validation of a survey for infectious disease control practices at equine boarding facilities. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2010;237(10):1166-1172.

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