Thailand, already battling the spread of coronavirus, is now contending with another deadly viral outbreak—in horses. With hundreds of horse deaths reported there in the last 3 weeks, horse owners are rushing to seal their animals indoors with netting, away from biting midges that spread the virus for African horse sickness (AHS). Some scientists suspect that zebras, imported from Africa, led to the outbreak. It is the first major outbreak of the disease outside Africa in 30 years, and AHS experts are worried that it could spread to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.
The AHS virus infects horses, donkeys, and zebras, and is typically transmitted by Culicoides midges that live in warm, tropical climates. The virus causes severe heart and lung disease that kills at least 70% of infected horses, but spares zebras and most donkeys, which act as reservoirs for the virus. Thailand has now lost its AHS disease-free status with the World Organisation for Animal Health, which means it must halt its imports and exports of equine species, wild and domestic. It will take at least 2 years to apply for disease-free status again.
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