There are a number of diseases that affect horses. Some of them are noncommunicable such as diarrhea, while others are highly contagious; one of those deadly diseases that infect horses and other equine species is the strangles infection. Though the infection rarely happens, it is still important that horse owners are aware and knowledgeable of it.
Strangles infection, also called as equine or horse distemper, is a serious and contagious disease of horses that can also affect other members of the equine family. The infection is caused by a bacterium scientifically known as Streptococcus equi. The microorganism can be readily identified in the laboratory through a simple sugar test.
The equine distemper is characterized by severe redness and swelling of the mucous membranes of the head and neck. The inflamed lymph nodes produce large amount of syrupy pus, an opaque liquid produced in infected tissue consisting of dead white blood cells and bacteria along with serum and debris, which is drained when the nodes rupture due to extensive swelling.
The pus draining from the abscess, a swollen or inflamed area within a body tissue that contains accumulated pus, can contaminate stables, barns, pastures, feed troughs and other places the infected animal goes which can spread the disease and infect healthy horses. The infection can also be acquired through direct contact, which includes contact with a horse that is incubating the infection or has just recovered from it. Horses that are clinically unaffected but are known to be long-time carrier of the infection can also transmit the disease.
Horses of all ages can acquire to the infection. But younger ones, five years old and below, are more susceptible because of lesser immunity. Elderly equines can also contract the diseases because of weaker immune system.
The clinical course of the disease starts within 3-14 days upon exposure. Infected horses begin to show classic signs and symptoms of generalized infectious process that includes depression, lack of appetite or inappetence, and fever usually ranging from 39 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius. Equines with strangles more typically develop a mucoid discharge in the nose that becomes purulent and thick afterwards.
A soft cough is also manifested as well as a small but painful swelling of the lymph nodes between the mandibles. To relieve the pain, horses often position their heads low and extended.
As the disease progresses, the abscesses develop in the submandibular lymph nodes or nodes between the bones in the jaw, and in the retropharyngeal lymph nodes or nodes posterior to the throat. The infected lymph nodes harden and the horse experiences extreme pain. These harden lymph nodes can cause obstruction resulting to difficulty of breathing, hence the name “strangles”. The abscesses will erupt in 1-2 weeks, releasing the thick pus densely contaminated with the bacteria. The horse will typically recover from the disease once after the abscesses ruptured.
Dr. Neil Dyer, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory director, usually instructs horse owners with infected animals to let the disease run its course because the animals can recover from it once the swollen lymph nodes rupture releasing the pus. And one thing about not really treating the disease is that infected horses can acquire immunity to it. Most vets, according to Dyer, will just wait until the nodes burst and then clean it up and let the horse just “shake the infection off.”
Dyer further says that producers or horse owners should be conscientious or diligent in isolating horses that acquired the disease. It is important to contain the disease to avoid an outbreak.
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