Horse disease human link under microscope


The Health Department is investigating a link between a mystery horse disease discovered in the South West and infections in humans.

Several people who have come in contact with the horses have reported developing lesions in their mouth like those affecting the animals.

Pinjarra veterinarian Michael Gibbs and his staff found the lesions in horses about three weeks ago but the potential link to humans has only just emerged.

The Health Department and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA are investigating but have not determined the cause of the complaint in people or horses.

Neither the horses nor the humans show signs of being unwell apart from the lesions.

"There have been reports that some people who have had contact with horses with unusual papular lesions in their mouth have developed similar lesions, although they remain generally well," the Health Department said.

"The lesions are generally described as small raised lumps on the tongue and gums."

Dr Gibbs said he was aware of 18 cases in horses near Pinjarra.

There are also reports of cases in the Swan Valley, with speculation those horses were in the South West for recent pony club events.

DAFWA is testing tissue samples from eight horses on three properties in the South West.

It said preliminary testing suggested the lumps might be a response to a viral infection.

Livestock biosecurity director Michelle Rodan said people examining horses' mouths might see small lumps that were not necessarily of concern.

"Testing has already ruled out the main virus of concern, vesicular stomatitis, and DAFWA is continuing to work with the veterinary clinic to finalise a diagnosis," he said.

There are no restrictions on horse movement in WA or on events but DAFWA has advised owners to contact their vet if they notice anything unusual in their horses.

Only healthy horses should attend events and they should not share feed, water or tack and equipment. The department has advised people handling affected horses to wear disposable gloves and a mask, and wash their hands after contact.

Dr Gibbs said none of his staff had developed symptoms after treating the horses.

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