Are you ready if a contagious or infectious disease hits your farm or stable? Here are some tips on how to establish a quarantine section in your barn and steps you can take to help control the spread of the disease.
An effective quarantine meets a basic goal: To prevent healthy horses from having contact with an ill horse or any surface—including human hands and clothing as well as buckets, brushes, fences and stall walls—that he has touched.
Few of us have the space and resources to move sick or exposed horses to a barn distant from our main stables and assign them to caretakers who never have contact with the rest of the herd. Nonetheless, an effective quarantine can be implemented on a smaller scale with a little creativity. Here are the points to address:
Stall space If a separate barn is not available, place the isolated horse in a stall at the end of the aisle farthest from the door that gets the most traffic, and leave at least one stall empty between him and the other residents. Use fans to direct airflow away from the quarantine area and out the back door rather than toward the other stalls. If your barn receives frequent visitors, post signs warning them not to approach or touch the quarantined horse.
Turnout Separation of the ill or exposed horse needs to be maintained at turnout as well as in the barn. Ideally, his turnout area would be downwind, far from the other horses, and would not share a fence with other turnout areas. If you have only one pasture, you could use temporary fencing to cordon off a section for the quarantined horse. But you’ll need to put up a double fence line, with each side separated by at least 10 feet, to prevent nose-to-nose contact. Another option is to alternate turnout times—bringing the quarantined horse in during the day and turning him out at night when the others are inside—but this poses the risk that the healthy horses will come in contact with secretions from the ill horse. Also remember to avoid shared outdoor water sources. Ask your veterinarian what’s best for your horse and facility based on the disease agent.
Care protocols If it’s not possible to designate one person to care exclusively for the sick horse, then the person who does the chores needs to finish with all of the healthy horses before moving on to the isolated one, and he should dispose of the sick horse’s manure away from other animals. “A sick horse in quarantine is placed on ‘barrier precautions,’” said Gary Magdesian, DVM, biosecurity and infection control officer for the large-animal clinic at the University of California-Davis. “This means he should be handled with disposable gloves, protective clothing, hair coverings and separate foot covers or boots.” One way to accomplish this is to keep a designated set of coveralls, gloves and boots you put on only when caring for the ill horse; you can also buy washable surgical scrubs or disposable protective gowns, shoe covers, latex gloves and other items used by healthcare workers. Your veterinarian or physician can help you find sources.
Equipment Keep a separate set of all equipment used to care for the isolated horse. “All stall-cleaning equipment, buckets and halters should be separated and used only on the infected horse,” said Magdesian. Remember that pathogens can travel on tractor and wheelbarrow tires as well. That means it may be necessary to scrub down tires and other contaminated surfaces with a bleach solution. “A disinfecting footbath should be placed outside of the stall, and the aisleway should be roped off to minimize traffic,” Magdesian said, adding that, above all else: “Hands must be sanitized or washed after handling the horse.”
Monitoring and logistics If you’re handling a horse with a contagious disease that could spread beyond your farm, your veterinarian will advise you on any other measures you might need to take. For example, you might be asked to keep your horses on the farm: “Movement of horses off the property should cease,” said Magdesian. “Consider all other horses in the same barn as potentially exposed and begin monitoring their body temperature twice daily. Gloves should be worn even with other horses in the same barn, and hands should be disinfected or washed after handling them as well.”