Part three: Equine biosecurity – what does it mean?

Moderator’s note: This is the final post in a three part series on equine biosecurity. To read part one on general biosecurity and vaccinations, click here. To read part two on isolating horses, click here.

By James Little, DVM

Equine and companion animal professional services veterinarian


Rodent and insect control

Some diseases or disease-causing germs are transferred from one animal to another by means of a vector, which is a living thing that carries a disease-causing organism between animals. Vectors can be insects or animals such as rodents. Other than vaccination, vector control may be the only way we can interfere with the transmission of certain diseases. Diseases such as eastern encephalitis, western encephalitis, and West Nile are transmitted to horses and humans by mosquitoes. The virus that causes equine infectious anemia is transmitted by horse flies. Other diseases are spread when flies land on the face of an animal and pick up disease causing germs from nasal secretions and then fly to another animal, thus exposing that animal to the disease. Rodents can serve as a reservoir for Salmonella and may possibly transport other organisms on their feet or fur. Our pets, dogs and cats may also serve as a vector by carrying germs on their paws or fur and should have restricted access.


Cleaning and disinfecting

Things called fomites also play an important role in disease transmission. A fomite is typically an object in the animal’s environment, although I also think people can sometimes serve as fomites.  Any bodily substance including nasal secretions, aerosolized droplets from a coughing horse, pus from an abscess, fecal material, and others can make its way onto this object, a.k.a. fomite. Now a potentially infectious organism is present there and is just waiting for another horse to touch the fomite. Fomites could include about anything you could imagine, but common examples are water buckets, feed buckets, stall walls and floors, trailers, fence posts, tack, brushes, ATVs, tractors, and so on.

Fomites must be cleaned and disinfected properly. It is a fairly common misconception to think of cleaning and disinfection as a one step process but unfortunately it is not. In order for a disinfectant to kill the microorganisms we are targeting, it must come in contact with that organism. There are many types of barriers that might prevent this contact. When working with animals, a common barrier present is fecal matter which is a type of organic matter. Other barriers could be hard water deposits or just plain old dirt. No matter the type of barrier present it must be removed. Ordinary soaps will not perform as well as a formulated cleaner in removing many of these barriers. Remember, when washing those stalls and vehicles, water alone will not remove all of the organic material. Also keep in mind that just because a surface looks clean, it is not free of potential disease-causing germs. These microorganisms are just that – microscopic, and can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Thus the next step is to disinfect. There are a multitude of different disinfectants available. The one you choose will depend on several factors. Will the active ingredient kill the organisms you are after? Is the product safe for the person applying the product and the animals? What impact does the product have on the environment? The surface to be disinfected should be non-porous. This may mean some surfaces in your facility may need to be changed from porous ones such as concrete, wood and dirt to non-porous surfaces. A general protocol is clean, rinse, dry, and disinfect. Please read labels and follow their instructions and precautions. I urge all of you to consult with your veterinarian and/or product supplier to determine what is the right product and protocol for you.

As I mentioned earlier, people may serve as  fomites. We can take several steps to minimize that risk. Gloves should be worn when handling a potentially contagious animal. Gloves should be removed and hands washed immediately after handling the animal. We also can wear protective barriers such as gowns and boot covers if necessary. Foot baths also are used to help disinfect our boots as we enter and exit an area. These footbaths don’t have to be elaborate. They should be made up of a pan that is deep enough to hold three to four inches of liquid and a disinfectant that is properly diluted and has good activity in organic matter. Simply step in the foot bath as you enter and exit a designated area. Generally, the use of foot baths, gowns and such are limited to use when a case of infectious disease is known or highly suspected. But again, I urge you to consult with your veterinarian to decide what is appropriate for your specific situation.


Final thoughts

The above discussion is not meant to be all inclusive, but hopefully it provides some good starting points. The goal I have tried to reach is to make us aware that biosecurity is not a simple one step process, but it does not have to be intimidating either. Hopefully some of the above strategies and tools already are being implemented. Each person’s farm, facility, etc. is unique, and a plan must be designed to suit each situation.  Hopefully, the appropriate communication channels can be opened between you, your veterinarian, and others to develop the biosecurity plan that is best for you and your horses.

For previous posts from Dr. Little, click here.

For a list of Neogen’s cleaners and disinfectants, click here.

For a list of Neogen’s rodent and insect control products, click here.

Comments are closed.