A deadly virus from Africa is killing horses in Thailand

Updated: May 24, 2020, 07:54 IST | Agencies | Thailand

"We had no idea what was causing it," said Nopadol Saropala, owner of a horse farm about 100 miles from the Thai capital, who lost 18 horses in nine days. "We found out later that it came from zebras that were apparently in transit to China."

The illness, spread by biting midges, hadn't broken out in Asia in more than 50 years. Pic/AFP
The illness, spread by biting midges, hadn't broken out in Asia in more than 50 years. Pic/AFP

When horses suddenly started dying in Thailand as the nation locked down to stem the spread of COVID-19, researchers feared the cause was another deadly bat-borne virus that could kill humans.

"We had no idea what was causing it," said Nopadol Saropala, owner of a horse farm about 100 miles from the Thai capital, who lost 18 horses in nine days. "We found out later that it came from zebras that were apparently in transit to China."

More than 500 horses have died since the outbreak appeared in late February. Blood samples analysed in England in March confirmed it was African horse sickness, a viral disease not known to harm humans but which is widespread among equines, including zebras, in Africa. The illness, spread by biting midges, hadn't broken out in Asia in more than 50 years.

The disease has devastated horse owners in Thailand and sent another signal to the global health community about the potential dangers of wildlife trade. About 70 per cent of emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic—transmitted from animals to people.

The severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, thought to have originated in bats, has prompted governments from the US to Australia to increase funding for studies of relationships between animals, humans and the environment to detect potential contagions.

500
No. of horses that have died since February

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