AUSTIN The Texas Animal Health Commission is attempting to get the word out that as of Wednesday, Sept. 1, state law wil1 require that equine, including horses, donkeys, mules and asses, be tested for equine infectious anemia within 12 months prior to undergoing any change of ownership.
The law exempts nursing foals changing ownership with their test-negative dams, and equine sold to slaughter. Persons who sell equine and fail to comply with the law, passed as House Bill 1732 in the 76th Texas Legislature, commit a Class "C" misdemeanor.
"Buying test-negative animals will reduce the chance of taking home an infected animal," says Dr. Terry Beals, executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission, the state's livestock health regulatory agency. "It's a real shame to buy an untested horse, get home, and find out later that the animal is infected and has exposed your best horse to the disease."
EIA, also known as "Coggins" or "swamp fever," is a viral disease spread from an infected equine to a "clean" equine by blood-to-blood contact. Biting flies can mechanically carry the disease from one horse to another, and unsterilized medical instruments or blood transfusions can also put equine at risk. Mosquitoes are not capable of spreading EIA.
Like some other viral diseases, EIA can strike as an acute infection, in which the animal becomes very ill and dies. At the other extreme are infected equine that show no signs of being ill, but test positive for the disease. These equine pose a threat, as no one suspects the animal has a health problem even though it is a reservoir for disease.
"Our 12 governor-appointed commissioners have proposed regulations that will bring us in line with the new change-of-ownership testing law and clarify conditions for selling equine to slaughter without a test," says Beals.
"The commissioners have struggled with the question of the untested equine moving through a market to slaughter," he adds. "At this point, they are against it. However, until their final vote is cast and regulations are adopted, we recommend that markets require a test for all horses, even if they are expected to be sold for slaughter. If, however, the markets elect to sell untested equine to slaughter, the animals will be allowed to move only to the plant under a restricted permit, known as a VS 1-27, issued by a TAHC inspector or veterinarian."
The commissioners may adopt regulations at their mid-September meeting in Austin. The law, however, will be in effect September 1, requiring that the equine have an EIA test within the past 12 months. The person transferring the ownership is responsible for having the equine tested, whether the animal is traded or sold at a public auction or private sale, or is just given away.
TAHC commissioners, each of which represent the public or a segment of the livestock industry, have proposed the following:
Foals that are nursing and are less than eight months old would be exempt from EIA testing, if they undergo change of ownership with their dam. The mare, however, must have tested negative for EIA within the previous 12 months.
Zebras would be exempt from the change-of-ownership testing rule.
If an equine is not tested, it could be sold only direct to a slaughter plant, where a blood sample would be collected for testing at state expense.
Testing for EIA is relatively simple. An accredited veterinarian must draw the blood sample, complete the accompanying paperwork, and send the specimen and document to one of 130-plus laboratories in Texas approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct EIA tests. Results generally take three to five days if the specimens are handled by mail.
"After the USDA establishes guidelines, some horse markets may set up "off-site" laboratories to expedite EIA testing just prior to the sale," notes Beals. "Thanks to new technology, test results can be available in only a few hours. To prevent disappointment, sellers should call ahead before hauling an untested horse to a market."
If an equine tests positive at the market lab, the owner may elect to have the animal tested again. After a second blood sample is collected and sent to the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, the animal is to be taken home, under a restricted movement permit, issued by a TAHC inspector. While awaiting test results, the equine in question and all other equine on the premise of origin are to be quarantined.
"If the confirmation test is positive, this animal will be handled as any infected equine, according to TAHC regulations," says Beals. He explains that the animal would be permanently identified with the official "74A" on the upper left shoulder unless it is euthanized immediately. Other equine on the premise would be considered exposed to the disease and would remain under quarantine until tested negative for the disease at least 60 days after the infected animal is removed.
To help prevent the spread of disease, TAHC regulations require EIA-infected equine to be euthanized, sold for slaughter or sent to a research facility. If the animal must be kept, it is to remain permanently quarantined at least 200 yards from other equine. In 1998, 370 equine tested positive for the disease in Texas.
"Infected equine will be allowed to move through the market to slaughter, as they are permanently identified with the 74-A brand and are inspected within 24 hours prior to entering the market," he said. As part of the inspection, the TAHC or USDA-accredited veterinarian will ensure that the animal has no clinical signs of the disease and has a normal temperature. The animal will move under the VS 1-27 permit, must remain isolated under a roof at the market, and remain on the premises no longer than 24 hours.
"Other aspects of the EIA regulations will not change," explains Beals. A negative EIA test within the previous 12 months is required for equine transported to events, races, trail rides, assemblies, or other gatherings, where they will commingle with other equine. The EIA test document, called a VS 10-11, is adequate proof of testing. Equine used exclusively for ranch work are exempt from EIA tests unless they are undergoing change of ownership.
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