A horse in Cornwall has tested positive for swamp fever, which is a highly contagious disease.
Also known as equine infectious anaemia (EIA), the disease affects horses, mules and donkeys, attacking their immune system. There is no treatment and it can cause death. Even when an animal survives the disease, it remains in their system and can be spread to other equines via biting insects such as horse flies and midges.
To contain the case in Cornwall, the contaminated horse – who was bought from Belgium five years ago – has been put down. The twenty other horses on the yard are being tested for the disease and are in quarantine to prevent it spreading any further.
Defra’s chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said: "All the necessary precautions to prevent disease spread, including movement restrictions on the sick horse and others at the same stables, were put in place as soon as we became aware of the animal's illness.
"We have also begun a thorough investigation to ascertain whether any other horses may have been exposed to infection.
However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said that the disease does not spread quickly – or very far – as the flies that transmit the disease "were very unlikely to fly further than 200 metres". EIA cannot be caught by humans.
"Equine Infectious Anaemia is a serious disease but it can be contained by finding infected horses and removing them so that they do not infect others," Gibbens said.