Thursday, December 05, 2019

What's on that hoof knife? Biosecurity for British farriers

British farrier biosecurity campaign

What's on your hoof knife?

A new and forward-looking education initiative is helping shine a positive light on the potential role that responsible farriers can play in preventing and containing an equine disease outbreak. Earlier this fall, Great Britain was on high alert when at least 41 locations were affected by cases of highly-contagious equine influenza. Racing was cancelled. Incomes were lost.

But something was gained.

The impetus for the new initiative did not come from a farrier organization, nor was it handed across the table from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, nor even transmitted as a polite suggestion from Princess Anne, a royal patron in regular contact with the farrier profession, who has even served as the Master of the Worshipful Company of Farriers.

An English farrier supply company, Stromsholm Ltd., took the initiative to partner with The Horse Trust, an established charity devoted to research and promotion of horse welfare, to involve farriers in biosecurity.

NOTE: While this initiative comes from Great Britain, it is relevant to farriers worldwide. This time of year is high season for Equine Herpes Virus outbreaks in the States in the US with quarantines for outbreaks of the highly contagious diseases EHV, strangles, and Equine Influenza in the past 30 days include: California, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

The ghosts of foot and mouth disease still haunt Britain

This year wasn’t the British horse world’s first brush with contagious diseases in stables. Many farriers now practicing in the UK will never forget the foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2006, which also stopped racing, closed stables, and had farriers wondering when they would be working (and earning) again.
The Horse Trust made this video about farrier biosecurity with farrier Dan Harman, AWCF, in the hope that it will help educate farriers on the positive role they can play during a disease outbreak. (Click to play)

But if you ask British farriers, what they are more likely to recall is the emotional side of the disease, as they watched farmers cull their herds of sheep and cattle--and even their border collies, as one farrier sadly explained. The outbreak was an apocalyptic national catastrophe, even though horses were not directly affected by that disease.

To prevent people and animals from possibly spreading the disease, even the Badminton Horse Trials was cancelled for that year.

Was a farrier at the root of the Australian equine flu epidemic in 2007?

The worst case scenario, from a farrier’s point of view, has already happened. In 2007, an equine influenza epidemic shuttered the horse industry--showing, racing and breeding--in eastern Australia. According to the Law Society of New South Wales, and other sources, a careless farrier may have kicked off the epidemic at an international quarantine station when an imported racehorse from Japan carried flu into Australia.

“(A farrier) attended Eastern Creek Quarantine Station just before the outbreak. He removed the shoes of five horses and trimmed their hoofs, but failed to clean or disinfect his tools when moving amongst them. He furthermore placed his tools in his vehicle without cleaning or disinfecting them, and left his dirty gumboots and overalls in the change room. (The farrier)  ought to have known the risks posed by horses...and would have been liable under a BIA (Biosecurity Act 2015, NSW) offence.”
According to reports, the farrier then went to a private stable to shoe more horses that day. Those horses went off to a show, where they came into contact with other horses, creating a classic domino effect. As the epidemic continued to spread, even herding cattle with horses was banned. Horse breeding dropped by 13% in 2007, as the epidemic hit during the breeding season.

Even police horses were infected. Licensed professionals are subject to fines up to $75,000 AUD for violating quarantine regulations. A farrier and veterinarian who kept working on horses in an exclusion zone were banned from working on horses.

The crisis lasted for six months. Australia was face to face with the reality that an epidemic could devastate the horse industry even on their isolated one-nation island, in spite of strict laws and protocols being in place.

Stromsholm and Horse Trust worked together on an equine biosecurity protocol for farriers.
Stromsholm and Horse Trust worked together on an equine biosecurity protocol for farriers.

British biosecurity initiative for farriers launched

In Britain, the Stromsholm campaign puts a positive spin on the role of farriers during a disease outbreak. We all know that farriers are as effective at spreading news as sick horses are of spreading their spores or bacteria. Consultant Claire Brown suggests that that attribute is an asset during a crisis.

Brown speaks from first-hand experience. During the 2019 equine flu outbreak in the UK, an infected horse was stabled at her farm. Her husband, farrier Nigel Brown, AWCF, was on the front lines of their pocket of infection in Wales in June.

“It wasn’t a situation we took lightly,” Claire explained. “It was onerous, (it) filled my washing basket, and we stank of disinfectant! But it would not have felt right if we hadn’t taken those measures.

“We sprayed all tools, including boxes, used foot dips, and sprayed vehicle tires. The (infected) pony’s yard is adjacent to the forge; the fencing and wooden stable doors and cladding were also sprayed with disinfectant.

“Clothes were changed every day and (the farrier staff) had no contact with the pony until she had been ‘swabbed clear’ by the vets,” she added.

Claire Brown and Nigel Brown
Claire and Nigel Brown live in South Wales. During the equine flu outbreak this fall, a pony on their farm tested positive for the disease. Nigel informed all his clients, and worked with them. 

The Stromsholm/Horse Trust initiative is based on research from the University of Liverpool. Beyond steps for farriers to take, it explains the “traffic light” warning system used in the UK:

Green indicates no disease has been reported in the area; amber indicates disease has been reported in the area but its exact location is unknown; and red confirms disease has been reported and the location is known. The biosecurity measures recommended to be undertaken by equine professionals, yards and owners range from basic (hand disinfecting) to more advanced (changing clothing, tool disinfecting) as the disease risk escalates.

Brown explained extra steps he took to warn his clients that he had been exposed to an infected horse: “We contacted all owners of yards that we had visited in the potential incubation period and continued to do so until the pony was swabbed clear. Understandably, our clients were alarmed; however, following reassurance that we were following correct biosecurity measures and had done so quickly and effectively, we continued to provide our usual farriery service. 

farrier demonstrates hand cleaning biosecurity
A farrier uses a sanitizer spray on his hands.  His apron may be a bigger challenge.

"As horse owners ourselves, we would never want to compromise the health of our client’s horses and, as a farrier, the potential impact on your business if such measures were not adhered to could be disastrous,” he concluded.

Carl Bettison, Managing Director at Stromsholm Ltd, is “delighted the protocol has been so well received. It is our aim to improve education about the spread of equine disease and the relatively simple steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of spread. 

"These guidelines are applicable to all those that care for (horses) and we very much hope that they will be adopted outside the farriery industry. By working together, we can make a really positive impact,” he said.

A traffic light meme is used to inform farriers about the current state of risk for contagious equine diseases. Note that the warning system includes precautions for farriers' all-important companion dogs.

The logic of biosecurity for farriers tends to follow two parallel tracks: First: farriers may be capable of spreading hoof disease via their tools, hence a pro-active need to disinfect hand tools. 

Second: farriers, veterinarians, massage therapists, saddle fitters, van drivers and so many other professionals who are in and out of stables are capable of spreading disease by casual interaction with infected horses.  Some diseases are transmitted in the air, while others spread by contact, such as through body fluids like mucus and saliva or via shared paddocks, water troughs, trailers, and even tie rails at horse shows. 

Are a farrier’s tools the biggest risk or is the risk the farrier him- or herself?

Calls for farriers and other professionals to be more proactive about biosecurity practices wax and wane with each outbreak of highly contagious diseases like equine influenza (“flu”), equine herpes virus, and strangles. 

If you’ve ever worked at a barn with active strangles, you have learned that there may be a "carrier" horse who shows no symptoms. Maybe that’s the one you’re trimming or shoeing today.

farrier disinfects shoes in stable
A disinfecting foot bath for humans in Great Britain, courtesy of Stromsholm and The Horse Trust..

Researching the farrier’s risk

A few studies have been published that are potentially relevant to a farrier’s risks during a disease outbreak. Most research, however, is conducted on diseases in livestock destined for the foot chain. Disinfecting foot baths are often used in livestock barns.

What can farriers learn from these studies?

The article “Presence of digital dermatitis treponemes on cattle and sheep hoof trimming equipment”, from the University of Liverpool, compared contamination of hoof knives used on symptomatic cattle, asymptomatic cattle, and asymptomatic sheep before and after use on infected hooves. Digital dermatitis treponemes were found on 62%, 57%, and 54% of knives, respectively. The study was published in the Veterinary Record in 2014.

A subsequent laboratory research study also published in the Veterinary Record by a second team at the University of Liverpool applied treponemes directly to hoof knives under aerobic conditions.  They survived for up to two hours on the blade. 

Perhaps more relevant to all who may be reading this is a 2018 study in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, “Potential Transmission of Bacteria, Including Streptococcus equi spp., Between Stables via Visitors' Clothes” by Frosth et al in Sweden; they intentionally infected human clothing to see how contamination varied between strains of Strep equi and between types of clothing and what part of the body they cover.

Researchers note that disease prevention best practices are in place to protect livestock, but that horses created different challenges, especially because veterinarians, farriers and other professionals often visit more than one stable or farm in a day, while wearing the same clothes.

barn sign warning of biosecurity precautions
A barn sign on a Kentucky Thoroughbred breeding farm.

Findings of that study:
  1. The strangles bacteria survived longer on T-shirt material than jacket material;
  2. The area most prone to contamination is the sleeves of a shirt or jacket;
  3. Strangles bacteria can survive at least 24 hours on some fabrics.

The British video from Stromsholm and The Horse Trust suggests that farm owners bear some responsibility to provide accessible handwashing equipment for staff and visiting professionals, and that preventive cleaning of tack, stable gear, and blankets is critical to preventing the spread of disease, as is the isolation of horses who are new to a farm or that have returned from activities like  breeding or showing or training.

With each outbreak, and with each new study, we learn more about how diseases are spread and how professionals and farm staff can be a strong line of defense.

To learn more:

Download: Stromsholm's best practices for farrier biosecurity brochure 

Enroll: The University of Minnesota is offering a free self-paced online certificate course on biosecurity.

Download: FEI Veterinary Department Biosecurity Information

Research: Potential Transmission of Bacteria, Including Streptococcus equi spp., Between Stables via Visitors' Clothes (2018, Open Access)

Research: Presence of digital dermatitis treponemes on cattle and sheep hoof trimming equipment (2014, free to view)

Research: Survival of bovine digital dermatitis treponemes on hoof knife blades and the effects of various disinfectants (2019, Open Access)

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