By Rob Morris on January 10, 2019
The Corolla Wild Horse Fund is taking precautions to prevent the deadly “swamp cancer” that claimed the lives of six horses on Virginia’s Chincoteague Island.
The illness is caused by pythiosis, a fungus found in stagnant water in areas where there’s no hard freeze in the winter.
CWHF, which cares for the Currituck Outer Banks’ wild horse population, says pythiosis is most often seen along the Gulf Coast. But warmer winters and increased precipitation in recent years is leaving North Carolina vulnerable to an outbreak.
Horses are infected when the organism enters the bloodstream through an open wound, cut or scratch, the fund said. It can also enter through the gastrointestinal tract. It causes lesions on the horse’s legs, belly and genitals, and it is most often fatal.
On Chincoteague, six horses were infected and all were eventually euthanized when treatments failed.
“A vaccine is being developed, but it is not FDA approved yet,” the fund said in a Facebook note. “We do not vaccinate the wild herd for any other potentially fatal diseases (West Nile, rabies, etc.) and at this juncture we do not intend to vaccinate for pythiosis either. However, we will continue to stay on top of the latest research and heed the advice of our vet.”
CWHF is planning an informational flyer to distribute to property owners in the 4×4 area to encourage them to clean up debris or trash that could cause cuts and scrapes on the horses.
“We will also be distributing examples of what to look for in case of an outbreak (like pictures of pythiosis lesions) and ask people to call and report any horse they see with open cuts and scrapes, or suspicious wounds,” CWHF said.
At the group’s rescue farm, horses are always closely monitored for cuts and scrapes, and any abnormal behavior is addressed immediately.
“We do not have any standing water on the property, but we are being extra cautious during rainy weather to not leave horses in pastures that do not immediately drain,” the CWHF said.
The group said they are staying on top of the latest research and talking with horse owners who have experienced pythiosis.
“… We will be ready to act should we see an outbreak here. Hopefully it will not come to that, but we’d certainly rather be safe than sorry.”