Midwest Equine

Feature Article

Designing An Effective Biosecurity Plan For The Clinic

- By Fairfeld T. BAIN, D.V.M., M.B.A, DIPL. ACVIM, DIPL. ACVP, DIPL. ACVECC, Merck Animal Health

Article Archives LinkDesigning An Effective Biosecurity Plan For The Clinic

Designing An Effective Biosecurity Plan For The Clinic


There are several resources available to help monitor and manage infectious disease. The Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC), www.equinediseasecc.org, was recently launched to help provide infectious disease outbreak information to the horse industry in North America. The communication system is designed to seek and report real-time information about disease outbreaks similar to how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alerts the human population about diseases in people. It also provides valuable biosecurity tips and information. Other valuable resources include:

  • AAEP infectious disease guidelines (www.aaep.org), providing guidance on respiratory, gastrointestinal, neurologic and vesicular infectious disease control.

  • United States Animal Health Association (www.usaha.org), through its Infectious Disease of Horses Committee (IDOHC) provides information on testing procedures, risk assessment, quarantine protocol, as well as an EHM guidance document.

  • Equine Biosecurity Risk Calculator – a self-quiz for horse owners provided by the University of Guelph (www.equineguelph.ca). A unique tool geared to the horse owner, and developed in partnership with Colorado State University and the AAEP.

  • Biosecurity Toolkit for Equine Events, California Department of Food & Agriculture (www.cdfa.ca.gov).

  • Merck Animal Health ongoing biosurveillance program. Since 2008, Merck Animal Health has been conducting an ongoing, voluntary equine biosurveillance program to study the prevalence and epidemiology of relevant viral and bacterial respiratory pathogens. Merck Animal Health provides sampling materials, overnight shipping and PCR testing for EHV-1, EHV-4, EIV, S. equi, and equine rhinitis A/B viruses (ERAV/ERBV) through the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Test results are returned within 24 hours. For more information, veterinarians should contact their Merck Animal Health sales representative.

Chances are many of us have battled an infectious disease outbreak in our careers. As the equine industry continues to experience more outbreaks of highly infectious disease such as equine herpesvirus and equine influenza virus (EIV), biosecurity has become one of the most important topics in equine health management. And, it is one of the most important discussions to have with clients.

Veterinarians on the frontlines know the best offense is a good defense. Having a biosecurity plan in place ahead of time is critical when an outbreak strikes. There are several components of an effective biosecurity plan, but it generally boils down to four areas:

  • Assessment of horse traffic in and around a facility
  • Environmental controls
  • Communication
  • Diagnostics

Understanding Horse Traffic
Outbreaks often occur in environments where many animals and people are moving freely around the facility, interacting with numerous people, animals and objects, all of which have the potential to carry an infectious pathogen. This type of unrestricted movement can increase the risks of a disease outbreak. No matter the type of facility – whether hospital, clinic, event venue or training/boarding facility – it is important to have an area of isolation so that sick animals, as well as new horses, can be appropriately separated from healthy animals.

In identifying the best isolation area, a complete facility biosecurity check is needed. This includes assessment of:

  • Construction and location of stalls
  • Feed and water areas and storage
  • Exercise areas
  • Diagnostic and treatment areas
  • Manure, soiled bedding and hay disposal
  • Horse-to-horse contact
  • Horse-to-other species contact
  • Animal and vehicle traffic patterns

Environmental Controls
Whether working to prevent or handling an infectious disease, managing the environment is one of the most practical biosecurity measures.

Once an area for isolation is identified, post restricted access signs at all primary perimeter access points. Restrict access to the minimum number of people needed to provide care for the horse(s). Footbaths and hand sanitizers should be placed at all primary perimeter access points, with special attention given to cleaning footwear after leaving an isolation area. It also may be necessary to prohibit all vehicles from horse traffic areas because vehicles can carry infectious disease pathogens on their tires or undercarriage.

Counsel clients on basic steps they can take to help prevent the spread of disease at home and away:

  • Vaccinate! It is still the most practical and economical means of infectious disease protection
  • Prevent close contact with strange horses
  • Do not use shared water sources
  • Properly dispose of manure and soiled bedding
  • Wash hands before and after working with a horse (hand sanitizers work well in the absence of soap and water)
  • Properly clean and disinfect equipment and tack on a regular basis
  • Consider allocating horse-specific equipment and avoid sharing equipment
  • Isolate and monitor horses post-travel, as well as new arrivals to the stable/farm/ranch, for fever and other signs of infectious disease
  • Keep horse health records on hand at all times (health certificates are required for entry at most events and shows)

Before, during and after an outbreak event, an effective biosecurity communication plan for staff, clients and event officials will prove invaluable. You may also be contacted by media representatives during an outbreak, so part of an effective communication plan should include identification of a spokesperson and protocol for handling media inquiries.

Have regular discussions with staff to ensure biosecurity procedures are implemented within the clinic, as well as a uniform message is communicated to clients and external parties (such as media). A written document outlining biosecurity principals is recommended and will provide an important reference tool for all clinic staff in an outbreak situation.

Reinforce the value of a biosecurity plan with clients before it is a crisis, and keep it simple. The topic of biosecurity can be overwhelming, so communicating the importance of prevention in an easy-tounderstand manner will improve compliance. Incorporate basic biosecurity tips and education in all client communications to help reinforce owner awareness on this important subject.

Don’t Skip the Diagnostics
Knowing “go-to” resources for timely diagnostic testing and surveillance is important (e.g., PCR testing of nasal swabs and whole blood samples in an EHV-1 respiratory or neurologic outbreak at a show/event). Being able to determine the identity of the infectious pathogen is critical in making timely quarantine and management decisions to help protect other horses and contain an outbreak. Keep a quick sheet of contact information for the nearest diagnostic laboratory on your smartphone or in your vehicle at all times.

Diagnostic testing is an important part of infectious disease management because it provides important insights into the epidemiology and risk factors associated with viral and bacterial pathogens in order to improve patient care and prophylactic protocols. Communicating results of diagnostic tests should also be discussed and a plan prepared ahead of an outbreak to ensure all parties are informed of results quickly, accurately and with a clear understanding of next steps.

Take-Home Message
While vaccination is highly effective in preventing infectious disease, it is not the only measure to be taken. With highly contagious infectious diseases such as EHV, EIV and strangles, vaccination alone will not prevent disease transmission. Incorporating a comprehensive biosecurity plan within the clinic and helping owners to understand the basic principles of biosecurity will provide a broader net of protection.

About the author
Fairfield T. Bain, D.V.M., M.B.A, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ACVP, Dipl. ACVECC, is an equine technical services veterinarian with Merck Animal Health. A graduate of Auburn University, School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Bain’s distinguished career includes extensive experience in practice, academia and within the industry. He is known for his work in perinatology and neonatal intensive care, cardiovascular disorders, pathology and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.