Animal Disease Tracking Map Launched

Infectious disease researchers in Canada have launched an interactive online map designed to track diseases in dogs, cats, and horses around the world. The "Worms and Germs Map" can be accessed for free online.

For horses, the map will display reported incidents of anthrax, Eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE), equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) abortion, EHV-1 myeloencephalopathy, equine infectious anemia (EIA), influenza, rabies, and strangles. The map can also provide information regarding when the case(s) were confirmed and, when supplied, how they were confirmed, whether the affected animal has a history of travel, and the affected horse's signalment (age, breed, sex, etc.).

The map was developed by Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, Dipl. ACVIM, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses at the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College, and Maureen Anderson, DVM, DVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, lead veterinarian of animal health and welfare at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

"Infectious diseases continue to be a problem but we often have limited information about what is occurring where, and the information we do have is sometimes quite limited or questionable," Weese explained. "By having better information about disease occurrences, we can help educate the public about infectious diseases, let vets understand what diseases are occurring in their area, help vets make decisions about preventive medicine in horses that will be traveling, help vets think about diseases that horses may encounter when traveling, monitor the movement of some diseases that have expanding ranges (e.g., Lyme disease), track outbreaks, and more readily detect early changes in disease patterns or outbreaks."

Weese said it's important for owners to know what diseases are being confirmed in their area, even if their horses rarely or never travel.

"Even if a horse doesn’t leave the farm, pathogens can sometimes meet it on the farm, from insects (e.g., EIA, EEE, West Nile virus, Lyme disease) or personnel (such as owners, veterinarians, farriers, and feed suppliers)," he told The Horse. "Knowing what is around can help (veterinarians and horse owners) make decisions about vaccination and generally increase understanding of infectious diseases.

"This includes both increasing awareness to make people take appropriate measures and helping decrease fear by providing a better understanding of the standard level of disease," he said. "EHV-1 infections aren’t exactly uncommon. Sporadic, single cases are most common, not outbreaks. Yet people often panic when they hear about EHV-1 because all they hear about are bad outbreaks. By realizing that this disease sporadically occurs all over, it increases understanding and maybe helps provide a balance between being proactive and panicking."

Weese and Anderson designed the map to reflect information straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak: Cases are largely submitted for inclusion by the veterinarians and veterinary technicians who are seeing cases in the field.

"Cases are entered by vets and vet techs, with further data obtained from surveillance programs and reputable news sources," Weese told The Horse. "Vets and techs entering data is important because it helps us get an understanding of the baseline level of disease that’s out there, not just occasional outbreaks."

Because veterinarians and technicians have busy schedules, Weese and Anderson have made it as easy as possible to submit cases: "Vets and techs can register to get a password, and then they can enter cases in a matter of seconds. We have case definitions for each disease to try to make sure that we are tracking true disease, not just animals that have been exposed and have antibodies."

Weese said feedback on the recently launched map from veterinary professionals and horse owners has been "very good" so far. Still, he hopes more veterinarians and technicians will sign up to help report cases.

"Getting participation of vets and techs is critical, and the more people put in the more they’ll get out," he said.

For more information and to see what diseases have recently been reported in your area, visit wormsandgermsmap.com.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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