'Exotic' equine anaemia identified in Devon horse

Horses, ponies and mules
Image caption EIA affects horses, mules and donkeys, but poses no risk to humans, Defra says

Veterinary officials are investigating how a Devon horse became infected with a rare exotic disease.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the animal has tested positive for Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA).

It said humanely destroying the horse was the only course of action for its welfare and to protect other animals.

Two other horses on the premises are currently being tested for evidence of infection.

The disease came to light after the owner requested a private vet to examine the sick horse.

Defra said it was investigating the origin of the disease.

Restrictions imposed

The horse has been in the UK for two years, but only became ill recently.

Defra said the incubation period of the virus is variable, from a matter of days to several months, but once infected with EIA, a horse is infected for life and can pose a risk to other horses in close proximity.

The premises, which have not been identified, have been placed under restriction.

Defra said EIA poses no danger to humans and there was no evidence that this outbreak presented a risk to the local community.

Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens said: "This case demonstrates the importance of owners being vigilant and identifying illness in their animals and consulting their vet who should then report any signs of exotic disease to the Animal Health Agency."

EIA can be transmitted by the exchange of blood by biting insects and occurs typically in low-lying swampy areas.

It causes intermittent fever, anaemia, emaciation and death and can also affect mules and donkeys.

The disease is extremely rare in the UK, with a only a few cases reported by Defra in the past 30 years.

In January, two imported horses in Wiltshire were destroyed after testing positive for EIA and a horse imported into Northumberland from the Netherlands was put down in September.

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