by Sarah Probst
"In terms of human disease, strangles is like a bad case of strep throat," says Dr. Thomas Goetz, veterinarian in equine medicine and surgery at the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital in Urbana. "In horses it's a highly contagious streptococcal infection. The infected horse has a fever and appears not to feel well. Eventually discharge may come from the horse's nose, and its lymph nodes may swell."
Because strangles is highly infective, risk of an outbreak is always present, especially with young horses. The disease may be spread when puss from the nose or burst abscesses gets on water troughs, feed buckets, brushes, driving lines, other equipment, or you.
In the event of an outbreak, Dr. Goetz prefers treatment options 1 and 2, but has resorted to antibiotics. "In a large outbreak you could separate the less severe cases and treat them with the first two options, or you could bite the bullet and treat them all. Quite a few years back a 30-pony farm had an outbreak of strangles. At first I worried we'd be treating them for 2 to 3 months. We decided to use antibiotics and in 3 weeks it was over and done with. Herd treatment, considering your manpower and financial resources, may be the best way to contain the infection and end the disease without having all your horses go through the breakage and drainage of lymph nodes and having the disease perhaps linger for several months."
Most horses are not infectious 30 days after the disease has run its course, but some horses may continue to be infective up to 6 months later. If you are concerned about whether a horse is still shedding the bacteria, ask a veterinarian to culture the horse's guttural pouch.
Cleaning the environment is difficult. Wash everything with soap and a 3:1 mixture of water and bleach. Control pests that spread disease, including flies, rats, and mice.
Sarah Probst is an information specialist at the University of Illinois, Urbana, College of Veterinary Medicine and a frequent contributor to Rural Heritage.
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26 October 2011 last revision