African Horse Sickness

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African Horse Sickness (AHS) has resulted in over 300 horse deaths since February 2023, and is quickly spreading in South Africa. With 189 fatalities out of 196 reported cases, the Eastern Cape has the highest number of reported cases. A total of 311 cases and 223 fatalities have been reported nationwide. Other provinces include KwaZulu-Natal with 28 cases and 10 fatalities, and Mpumalanga with 25 cases and 11 fatalities, according to Noko Masipa, DA Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (Article in the Daily Maverick 10 April 2023)

Culicoides midge:
Žiegytė, R.; Bernotienė, R.; Palinauskas, V. Culicoides segnis and Culicoides pictipennis Biting Midges (Diptera, Ceratopogonidae), New Reported Vectors of Haemoproteus Parasites. Microorganisms 2022, 10, 898. Image from:

A virus transmitted by midges or muggies (Culicoides species) causes AHS to be a deadly equine disease and can be detrimental to horse populations.  The prevalence of AHS is influenced by a variety of factors, including climate (hot rainy seasons), local conditions, and the movement of infested equids. While there are no definite means to completely eradicate AHS, several natural preventative methods, the strengthening of immune defences, and treatment options can lessen its impact.

Clinical Signs and Symptoms of African Horse Sickness (According to the MSD Veterinary Manual)

  1. Pulmonary Form: Respiratory distress like frothy nasal discharge, coughing, and laboured breathing.
  2. Cardiac Form: Swelling and Oedema, especially in the head and neck areas. Oedema in the lungs can cause severe difficulty in breathing. Fever. Small haemorrhages, called petechiae, may be seen on the mucous membranes and other areas of the body.
  3. Mixed Form: Combination of respiratory and cardiac symptoms.
  4. Subclinical Form: Horse Sickness Fever. Most prevalent in infected equids that have previously been vaccinated or exposed to the virus.

Some infected horses may show mild symptoms like fever and reduced appetite, while others exhibit more severe pulmonary or cardiac symptoms. The severity of the disease can vary depending on the horse’s age, overall health, and the strain of the AHS virus.

How to Prevent African Horse Disease (sickness)

1.  Stable management:

  • Screening – fine mesh screens on stable windows and doors to keep midges out.
  • Hygiene – keep stables clean, remove manure, and clean soiled bedding.
  • Ventilation – Install fans in the stable to maintain good airflow, disrupt midge flights and stop them from settling.

horse stables

2.  Environment and Pasture:

  • Good drainage – ensure good management of water sources and drainage in pastures to prevent the breeding of midges.
  • Stabling during dusk and dawn – Keep horses indoors during these times when midges are most active.
  • Wet areas – avoid pastures near water sources and wetlands during active midge periods.

3.  Insect Repellents:

  • Use equine-approved fly repellents on your horse, fly masks, and sheets.
  • Natural repellents including citronella, lavender, and neem can be used as part of the grooming routine.

4.  Vaccination:

  • Vaccination in an AHS-prone area is crucial and can help safeguard your horse and protect the local horse population. The law requires that all horses are vaccinated annually by a veterinarian for AHS.

5.  Health Support:

  • Reduce stress: High levels of emotional or physical stress can significantly impair immune function, and increase susceptibility to disease. Ensure that your horse has ample opportunities to socialize, add mental enrichment to his environment and daily routines, and keep exercise regular and at an intensity suitable for your horse’s age, level of fitness, skill, and health. Provide a safe and comfortable environment, groom and bond regularly, and provide comprehensive nutritional support for a healthy nervous system.
  • Nutrients and medicinal plant extracts: have significant potential to help safeguard your horse against viral infections by providing antiviral properties on a cellular level, enhancing immune defenses, and improving overall health.

Immune system support:

Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids function on a cellular level to improve the cellular response to infections. Research shows that medicinal plant extracts and equine superfoods like Spirulina, Kelp, Siberian ginseng, Curcumin, Astragalus, Echinacea, Yucca, Ginger, and Propolis concentrate significantly enhance immune protection by increasing immune cell production, antibody production, and anti-viral activity against viruses, and by enhancing intestinal immune defences.

  • Anti-Oxidant protection: Vitamins, superfoods like Spirulina, Flaxseed, Rose Hip and Kelp, and many medicinal plant extracts like Curcumin, Spirulina, and Siberian ginseng target the accumulation of damaging free radical molecules in the body. These molecules are produced by internal biological body processes and exposure to external toxic molecules from chemicals like insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, and pollution. Antioxidants enhance protection against toxin-induced organ damage and inflammatory conditions that cause chronic diseases and cancer.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Natural anti-inflammatory agents like Curcumin, Quercetin, Ginger, Boswellia enhance immune function by reducing inflammation, which can suppress the immune system.
  • Regular Exercise: Regular moderate exercise, supported by optimal nutrition and rest, improves circulation for efficient distribution of immune cells and antibodies, enhances immune cell activity, improves lymphatic system function, reduces the risk of chronic inflammation, improves cardiovascular and respiratory health, reduces stress, and enhances overall health and resilience.


African Horse Sickness Treatment

  • Early detection and diagnosis is crucial to managing AHS. Isolate your horse immediately if you suspect infection and consult your veterinarian promptly.
  • Supportive care: Since there is no specific antiviral treatment for AHS, your horse’s symptoms can be managed by providing supportive cardiac and pulmonary care, including fluid therapy, electrolytes, anti-inflammatory medication, and nutritional immune support. In severe cases, blood transfusions may be necessary.
  • Rest: Isolate your horse in a clean, stress-free, and comfortable environment to aid the healing process and protect other horses from being infected. The virus is not transmitted between horses but can be transmitted from infected equids by biting midges, and infected ticks and mosquitoes.


AHS is a devastating disease with a high mortality rate and the potential to cause substantial harm to equine populations. Since there is no guaranteed method to prevent it, preventative measures like quarantine, vector control, optimal nutrition, comprehensive immune support, and vaccination can significantly decrease your horse’s risk of infection and safeguard their health. During an outbreak, early detection, isolation, and prompt veterinary action are crucial. Annual vaccination is compulsory and is crucial to protect your horse from this deadly disease.

By implementing optimal prevention and comprehensive treatment strategies, horse owners can reduce the impact of AHS on their beloved animals as well as on the equine community as a whole.



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