BVA Policy briefs

Where BVA doesn't have an official policy position it may still provide detailed facts and advice

African Horse Sickness

African Horse Sickness (AHS) is a highly fatal infectious disease that affects horses, mules and donkeys and is caused by an orbivirus.

AHS is included in The Specified Diseases (Notification and Slaughter) Order 1992 to implement the slaughter requirements of EU Council Directive 92/35/EEC.

Imported horses from at-risk countries outside the EU are routinely tested for AHS. The severity of disease and the controls to monitor and restrict movement of horses could significantly affect the UK equine industry - although it has never been identified here.

The clinical signs differ between individual animals and range from high fever, spasmodic coughing, dilated nostrils with profuse frothy fluid oozing out to swelling of eyelids, facial tissues, neck, thorax, brisket and shoulders.

AHS is endemic in the central tropical regions of Africa from where it spreads regularly to northern and southern African countries. A few outbreaks have occurred in the Middle East (1959 to 1963), Spain (1966 and 1987 to 1990) and in Portugal (1989). More recent outbreaks in Spain were due to the importation of infected zebras from Namibia.

BVA policy brief: African horse sickness

Avian Influenza

Avian Influenza or 'Bird Flu' is a highly contagious viral and notifiable disease affecting the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous system of birds and is caused by Type A influenza virus.


Bluetongue is a virus spread by midges and affects ruminants but not pigs, horses or humans. It is characterised by changes to the mucous linings of the mouth and nose and the coronary band of the foot.

Bluetongue is present when it is confirmed by laboratory tests that the Bluetongue virus (BTV) is circulating in an area. It has the potential to cause considerable animal suffering and devastation to the UK's livestock farming industry.

In 2012 the EU introduced changes to the 2000 Council Directive to allow the use of inactivated vaccine within a Bluetongue-free area, should a member state authorise its use - farmers in England can vaccinate their animals to protect them.

BVA was a member of the Joint campaign Against Bluetongue (JAB) which encouraged mass vaccination of Bluetongue susceptible animals. In 2011 the UK was officially declared BTV free and all restrictions lifted.


Dourine is a serious venereal disease of horses and other equids. Although there has never been a case of Dourine in the UK, it is still a notifiable disease under the Infectious Diseases of Horses Order 1987.

In recent years two outbreaks of dourine in horses have been reported in Sicily and on the mainland. It was previously reported in Italy in 1996.

It is still important to be aware of the disease and for vets to consider it in their list of differential diagnoses. Dourine is considered endemic in parts of Africa, South America, parts of south eastern Europe, parts of Asia, including Russia and occasionally the Middle East.

More information on the BEVA website

E coli

Escherichia coli (E coli) are common bacteria which live in the intestines. Human infection is acquired through the oral route from animal faeces, usually from food or water. Inadequate hygiene during the processing of carcases can lead to contamination of meat, which is the most important food vehicle.

Most strains cause no ill effects in healthy humans or animals but some strains are known to cause illness in people, including E coli O157 which is common in livestock in the UK and about 5% of cattle may be excreting at any one time. It may be a normal part of ruminant (particularly cattle and sheep) gastro-intestinal flora and causes no clinical signs in infected animals. Other animal species have been identified as excretors but these are the exception rather than the rule.

About 1,000 to 1,200 laboratory-confirmed cases in humans are reported each year in the UK. The majority of patients have diarrhoea or bloody diarrhoea. About 5% of cases develop haemolytic urea syndrome (HUS) and clotting defects. This can cause capillary damage resulting in brain and kidney damage particularly in children and the elderly. O157 is said to be the single biggest cause of kidney failure in children in the UK. Some patients recover after dialysis but some have permanent kidney failure. Antibiotic treatment may exacerbate the symptoms.

Animal and Plant Health Agency

Equine tendon firing

The practice of equine tendon firing (also known as thermocautery) was once a common method used in the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal injuries in horses.

Firing was said to benefit the tendon as a result of the counter irritation induced by the firing and induce an acute healing reaction and shorten the duration of the natural healing process. However, the effectiveness of the process has not been proven.

Foot and Mouth

Animal keepers should in the first instance report suspicion of disease to their own private veterinary surgeon. If a notifiable disease is suspected, then please contact your nearest APHA Office.

FMD is an acute, infectious disease characterised by fever and development of blisters. It is mainly in the mouth and on the feet and caused by aphthovirus, affects all cloven-footed animals, spreads rapidly and is very resistant. It is not fatal but seriously affects the general health and productivity of farm animals.

Defra's FMD Control Strategy for Great Britain consolidates current policies and responses to control an outbreak of FMD. The strategy encompasses existing legislation, setting out control measures to be put in place from suspicion of FMD through to regaining disease freedom.

Swine flu or H1N1/009v

Some animal species are susceptible to human influenza viruses in general.

If as a pet or animal owner you fall ill with flu-type symptoms you should limit your contact with those animals.

Owners of pets, horses, pigs, fancy waterfowl and poultry should also prevent anyone with flu-like illness being in contact with their animals and report any signs of flu in their animals to their veterinary surgeon without delay.

Signs of flu include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, runny nose and/or eyes, sneezing, coughing or changes in breathing.

Koi Herpes Virus

KHV is a highly contagious viral disease which causes morbidity and mortality within common carp and koi carp. Other related cyprinid species such as the common goldfish seem to be unaffected but are potentially asymptomatic carriers.

External signs of the disease may include gill mottling or bleeding, sunken eyes and blisters on the skin. Behaviourally, affected fish often remain near the surface, swim lethargically or in an uncoordinated manner and may exhibit respiratory disease.

KHV was first confirmed in Israel in 1998 but since then has spread worldwide and was first confirmed in the UK in 2000.


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a major health concern in humans which can also colonise and cause infection in companion and farm animals. MRSA is of little risk to healthy animals and although transmission of infection from animals to man has been documented, the rate is thought to be low.

MRSA screening and occupational health

MRSA has a high public profile but exposures to MRSA are currently infrequent in England. However, there are fewer effective antibiotics to treat MRSA infections compared to those caused by methicillin sensitive S aureus infections.

The ARHAI Report provides advice on MRSA screening and occupation health in veterinary practice.

MRSA in cats and dogs

Sporadic infections in cats and dogs have been anecdotally reported for years with the numbers increasing since Tomlin’s report in 1999.

Healthy cats and dogs are implicated in the transmission of the disease between humans and pets and can pose a risk to people with reduced immune systems. Equally, pets who are immunosuppressed are most at risk. For this reason, strict hygiene should be in place and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) offers MRSA guidelines on this.

MRSA in horses

MRSA infections in horses are increasingly being reported and there is a risk of transmission to humans. Recognising risk factors such as poor hygiene and surgery remain key to successful control of infection.

MRSA in farm animals

MRSA has been reported in dairy cows and in pigs and humans in contact with them, implying cross species transmission. It has also been detected in meat and by-products in Korea.

Information for veterinary staff: Bella Moss Foundation

Newcastle Disease

Newcastle Disease is a highly contagious disease of birds caused by a paramyxovirus. Birds affected are fowl, turkeys, geese, ducks, pheasants, guinea fowl and other wild and captive birds, including ratites such as ostriches and emus.

Affected birds may show signs of respiratory disease, diarrhoea, nervous signs such as twisted neck or incoordination, swollen face and neck, or sudden death. Hens can stop laying or the eggs may be deformed.

In the UK isolated cases of this disease were first reported in the 1930s. From 1947 outbreaks occurred over the next 30 years and there were further isolated cases in 1984, 1996-7, 2005 and 2006.

Rabies control

Approximately 55,000 people die of rabies each year in Asia and Africa and children are particularly at risk from this terrible disease - around 100 children die of rabies every day.

The Alliance for Rabies Control (ARC) was created to alleviate the burden of rabies across the world by promoting and implementing rabies control, prevention and education programmes while accounting for animal welfare and conservation issues.

World Rabies Day is held on 28 September every year to raise awareness of this terrible disease and to promote its prevention.

The BVA Overseas Group supports World Rabies Day by asking UK veterinary surgeons to promote understanding of this devastating but preventable disease in their practices and has produced some information for vets to share with clients and staff.

The first World Rabies Day was in 2007 and Veterinary Record carried a number of articles discussing the the initiative and the role that vets can play in tackling the disease worldwide.

Here's some additional information on rabies:

Schmallenberg virus (SBV)

Schmallenberg virus (SBV) is a fairly new livestock disease that has been detected in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. It is similar to some other animal disease pathogens, such as Akabane and Shamonda viruses, which are transmitted by vectors such as midges, mosquitoes and ticks.

It is named after the German town where it was identified in 2011.

The virus has been associated with brief mild/moderate disease (milk drop, pyrexia, diarrhoea) in adult cattle and late abortion or birth defects in newborn cattle, sheep and goats. SBV is not a notifiable disease but farmers and vets should remain vigilant and report any suspicious cases to Defra's AHVLA for testing.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control suggests that there is a low likelihood of any risk to public health. 

West Nile Virus

WNV is a viral disease affecting birds, horses and humans which is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes. It can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).

WNV was first identified in Uganda in 1937 and is found throughout Africa, Asia and Russia. It has also been found in North America and some parts of Europe. WNV infection has never been identified in horses or humans in Great Britain.

BVA facts and briefing sheet