Monday, September 15, 2008

Saving hundreds of foals and millions of dollars

My work on the horse lung disease called 'rattles’ could save hundreds of foals each year and the Thoroughbred industry millions of dollars.

Rattles in foal is a huge problem in the Thoroughbred industry in Australia and throughout the world with treatment and management costs alone estimated to be $5 million each year. Given that on some farms, foals that get rattles can have as low as a one in ten chance of survival and the potential million dollar price tags generated from the sale of one of these ‘well breed’ foals at yearling sales, it’s not hard to realise the significant cost of this disease on the horse breeding industry.

In my work I discovered that I could measure the microbe (virulent Rhodococcus equi) responsible for this disease in the dust on horse breeding farms. The concentration of the microbe in dust was associated with the prevalence of ‘rattles’ (i.e. high numbers of microbes = lots of rattly foals). I was also able to detect the microbe on the breath of foals that where sick, they could be seen to be breathing out the microbe and possible infecting their mob mates.

The ability to measure this microbe in the dust on farms and from the breath of foals has lead to farmers and veterinarians having a better understanding of when and where the microbe can be inhaled by the foal and cause disease. Farm managers are now better equipped to identify environmental and mob warning signs, such as dry and sandy pens and the crowding of large number of foals in small yards for a long time, that may lead to increase risk of ‘rattles’. The development of farm management strategies to reduce the impact of this disease will involve minimise the risk of foal being in danger of inhaling high concentration of the microbe. Watering paddocks, good grass coverage and making sure foals avoiding large crowds will no doubt lead to a huge reduction in the occurrence of this disease and in so slashing its economic impact.

By Dr. Gary Muscatello

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