Biosecurity is a commonplace term these days among horse owners and equestrian event managers. Horse owners must take personal responsibility for reducing risks of equine infectious disease outbreaks. Newly implemented vaccination and isolation facility requirements for horse event venues are another layer of protection, but cannot take the place of an implemented farm biosecurity plan.
Biosecurity guidelines from reliable resources are readily available on the Internet and in printed material. The word “guideline” should be emphasized. Protocols and disinfectant products used in a university equine hospital that has painted concrete stalls, drains, and a cadre of well-trained personnel whose sole responsibilities are cleaning and disinfecting stalls might not be appropriate or practical for a different equine facility. The environments are different, the horses’ risks are different (hospital patients vs. healthy horses), and the types of pathogens likely present are very different. The best biosecurity plan is one tailored to the facility and environment, the horses, and the risks. Risks are the type of pathogens of concern (horse show vs. a broodmare foaling barn, as well as the volume of human and horse traffic at the facility (busy horse sales venue vs. closed herd of retirees).
Obtaining biosecurity information from reliable resources is also critical. I was amazed at how much interesting (and often inaccurate) information is available regarding biosecurity.
Take the internet article on the dangers of mosquitoes to horses (true) since they can transmit West Nile virus to horses (true), and also the deadly chikungunya virus to horses (false, false, false). Chikungunya virus is not known to cause disease in horses anywhere, let along be a “deadly disease to horses” in the U.S. Somehow I was not surprised that the origin of the article was a manufacturer of insecticides. While insect control is a part of a comprehensive biosecurity program, scare tactics are not effective or ethical marketing strategies.
In another article on biosecurity, the author referred to a disinfectant type that was the “gold standard” of disinfectants. However, there is no “gold standard” of disinfectants for horse facilities. Different disinfectants have different capabilities of killing different pathogens under different environmental conditions (hard water, cold environmental temperatures, organic matter, etc.). one of the broadest spectrum disinfectants is bleach. However, bleach is readily inactivated in the presence of organic matter (soil, manure, etc.) and is most effective on hard, nonporous surfaces that have been thoroughly cleaned and are free of organic matter. Most commercially available disinfectants with label claims for equine pathogens have been tested in 5% organic matter, which still means a very, very clean surface.
One rub rag used to polish sever horses’ muzzles prior to entering the show ring can be the weak link in biosecurity. Allowing show ponies to sniff noses at the entry gate “to get acquainted” is an effective way to spread respiratory disease. Common sense is the first step to effective biosecurity.