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Midfeeds’ AHS talk with Dr Ockert Botha

A huge thank you has to go to Simon Burn and the Midfeeds’ team for organising last night’s excellent talk with Dr Ockert Botha on the topic concerning all horse owners across the country at the moment – African Horse Sickness. The talk had a full house with grooms, stable managers and interested horse owners queuing outside to get in! We will produce a full article based on the contents of the talk, and the talk was live-streamed and video footage is available online. However, we wanted to put some of our key learning points out there today as we believe that the sooner owners get the information, the better!

  1. Vaccination against AHS is vital (although not advised during the current outbreak), and vaccination two should be given in advance of vaccination one.
  2. Midges are most active around dusk and dawn, and Dr Botha advised that during this current outbreak of AHS all horses are kept in the stables until 9am in the morning and then put back in the stables by 4pm in the evening.
  3. He explained that stagnant water is a major issue as this is where the Cullicoides midges breed. He therefore advised that all standing water be removed from the stable area. He also emphasised the need for keeping shavings in the stable dry, and removing all waste material. He advocated the use of Neporex (an insect growth regulator) within the stables.
  4. He advocated the use of fans, as he explained that the midges are poor flyers and therefore struggle to reach the horses if the air currents are strong. On top of this he reminded us that the carbon dioxide exhaled by horses is what attracts the midges in the first place, so the fan also reduces the concentration of the carbon dioxide by dispersing it throughout the air and thus removes the attractive stimulus for the midges.
  5. DEET is the most effective ingredient in sprays in terms of repelling midges. Lemon Eucalyptus oil also has proven efficacy for this purpose, but DEET is definitely out in front. As an important aside, DEET is not the same as DDT – DDT was banned years ago, but DEET is perfectly legal and safe.
  6. Dr Botha highly recommends Midfeeds’ Smart Voetsek repellant, as it contains DEET (15% – the optimum amount according to Dr Botha) and the best oils for repelling midges. He emphasised that the bottles must be shaken (at least ten times) before application and that the spray must be applied all over the body. He also explained the need to use the ‘fine mist’ setting on the bottles, rather than the ‘squirt’ setting, and to spray approximately 30cm away from the body. He noted that midges commonly bite on the muzzles and faces of horses so the spray should also be applied to the face, but using a cloth NOT the spray function.
  7. The other chemical fly sprays mostly contain permethrins which unfortunately, whilst they do kill midges, in fact only kill them once they have spent a long time in contact with the horse and thus probably bitten the horse. By this stage it is therefore irrelevant whether the midge is killed or not, as the horse is already potentially infected.
  8. On the other hand he explained that citronella in fact attracts midges, and therefore must not be used at all during this period.
  9. Dr Botha recommended recording temperatures formally for each horse twice a day (watching out for temperatures above 38 degrees), and checking the heart rate (should be approximately 40 beats per minute) and respiratory rate (should be approximately 25 breaths per minute). He also advised looking at the gums for petechiae (‘blood spots’) regularly as he reports that this is commonly one of the earliest signs of AHS.
  10. He advised that as soon as AHS or a virus is suspected that the vet is called. He explained that medication is available for the treatment of AHS and that it has been shown to be effective. He emphasised that the dikkop form of the disease has the best prognosis (with or without treatment) but that the dinkop form is commonly fatal, and treatment can improve survival in these cases. The treatment is geared at preventing the heart failure that ultimately kills the horse, by providing a medication that removes excess fluid from the body using a diuretic effect, and also by providing a medication that has cardioprotective effects.