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Infected racehorses spread fear of contagion at BSPCA

More than half a dozen horses in the city’s racecourse have been afflicted by a lethal respiratory infection, which now threatens to endanger other horses at the turf club, as well as animals at the Bombay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BSPCA) Hospital in Parel. In the last month, the horses at Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) were infected with strangles, a serious respiratory infection — at times, fatal — which affects donkeys, horses and ponies with symptoms that include coughing, fever and a swollen throat.


Mare’s nest: Doctors at BSPCA fear that the infected horses admitted in the facility, though isolated, may endanger other animals there. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

The fear of contagion arose after five of the diseased horses were admitted to BSPCA after their throats swelled up, but the hospital authorities were not informed of the infectious nature of the disease. Doctors fear that the creatures may imperil the lives of other animals at the BSPCA.
As per the reports available, in the last month, the Amateur Race Club (ARC) of RWITC shifted around three infected horses to stables at Jaipur and Hyderabad, and admitted five others to the BSPCA. ARC committee member Prakash Mehta confirmed the strangles infection, saying, “We have shifted all the affected horses out of the ARC premises.”

Of the five horses at BSPCA, one was discharged after treatment, while the rest have been kept at the facility under observation of veterinarians from ARC and RWITC. Sources in the ARC revealed that the vets are struggling to cope with the situation, as even though the fever subsides after a few days, infected horses lose appetite post-recovery and their vital organs become weak.
Notably, the ARC vets kept BSPCA in the dark about the contagion, despite the fact that the disease could infect other animals in the hospital.
Vets at ARC neither confirmed nor denied the outbreak. Dr Ashok Prabhu said, “I would not like to comment. Kindly get in touch with the ARC committee.”

Dr (Col) J C Khanna, BSPCA secretary, said, “All the horses were brought to the hospital with a common symptom of swelling in their throats. They are still under observation.” Khanna said he did not know if the horses were infected with strangles. A doctor from BSPCA said, “Though the horses are kept in isolation, the ARC vets should have had the courtesy to inform us of such an infection. They cannot risk the lives of other animals like this.”

What is strangles?
Strangles, or equine distemper, is a highly contagious and serious infection of horses and other equids caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi through air. The disease is characterised by severe inflammation of the mucosa of the head and throat, with extensive swelling and often rupture of the lymph nodes, which produces large amounts of thick, creamy pus. It reduces the animal’s ability, and in certain cases, can prove to be fatal. 

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