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Saratoga Harness Track Experiences Strangles Outbreak

Strep equi or “strangles” has been confirmed on the Saratoga Harness track.  Fourteen horses have tested positive since the first case was diagnosed. The disease was first reported in late March.   See link at USA today news.

Streptococcus equi, the formal name for “strangles” or “equine distemper” is a highly infectious bacterium that spreads by direct contact, on objects (clothes, tack, food buckets, etc.).  It causes high fevers, swollen lymph nodes, coughing, and sometimes very serious disease and/side effects.  Although horses that are ill are easy to identify, some horses become carriers after they have had the disease.  These “carriers” often carry the disease in their guttural pouches for up to a year after infection has apparently cleared. This is often how an outbreak may occur. Humans are usually immune to this disease unless their immune system is compromised such as in people having chemotherapy or other immune suppressive diseases.

Vaccines are available to assist in the prevention of strangles in horses, but the vaccines are not 100% effective.  To minimize spread, infected horses must be isolated from other non- exposed horses.

The Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell University (AHDC) has developed a fact sheet for review on techniques, samples, interpretation on Strangles testing.  This sheet is to assist veterinarians with obtaining the best diagnostic samples and interpreting results.

The Animal Health Diagnostic Center/New York Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory has been working closely with veterinarians and the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets to provide diagnostics for strangles. Due to the serious potential for the spread of this infection and financial  consequences for the horse industry, Dr. Amy Glaser, Director of the Molecular Laboratory, and her staff  have worked to get the PCR test results out on the same day as when sample arrives. The molecular laboratory has a STAT policy for routine (non out-break) testing for specific serious diseases.  See STAT policy.

Important Information

  • Culture results are usually available within 2-3 days after the sample is received.  These quick turn-around have assisted in preventing additional horses from getting sick. 
  • Racing has been suspended until April 11, 2012.  It is expected that the track will open on this date.  Special requirements are in effect until April 30, 2012.
  • The New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) has been working with owners, trainers and veterinarians to provide information on the most up to date testing requirements at each of the harness tracks.  Special testing requirements are in place for horses leaving the Saratoga Harness track going to other harness tracks.  
  • Each track has their own specific requirements; therefore, it is best that veterinarians, owners or trainers contact:   the Racing Secretary of the Track, the Presiding Judge or Brian Barry (Director of Racing Officials) for the New York State Racing and Waging Board.  Mr. Barry’s number is:  518.281.0508 and will assist with obtaining the correct information for testing.
  • Directive establishes the minimum criteria for entry to New York State harness tracks (PDF)