Facts about Equine Infectious Anemia Testing

Courtesy of  Penn State Extension

Obtaining an EIA testing result on an equine does not prevent the horse from contacting the Equine infectious anemia disease, but identifies equine that have the potential to be “carriers” of the disease. Most horse owners accept that obtaining the testing result is just an added expense on their veterinarian bill. They pay for the testing so that they can participate in horse events or travel across interstate lines.

Often one discovers when moving a horse to a new boarding facility that a current negative testing result is required before the equine can occupy the premise. Anyone purchasing a horse should only consider a horse that has a current negative Coggins testing result.

Yet many horse owners do not really understand the purpose of the Coggins testing, what it is evaluating and why it is so important to the horse industry.

The Coggins testing does not protect the equine from contacting the disease and is not a yearly vaccine or inoculation. This testing for Equine infectious anemia, commonly known as the “Coggins testing,” is a method to identify equine that are carriers of the Equine infectious anemia disease. Equine infectious anemia (EIA) is an infectious and potentially fatal viral disease of the equine family. What makes this disease so “scary” is the fact that there is not a vaccine or inoculation to prevent a horse from contacting it. EIA is frequently transmitted between horses in close proximity by large biting insects, therefore it is a bloodborne infection. Therefore, an example of how this disease could be spread would be as follows: A horse that is a EIA “carrier” arrives at a new barn or horse event. This horse may not exhibit any physical signs of the disease and for all appearances appears healthy and normal. An insect bites this horse withdrawing blood and then flies to the horse in the adjoining stall and bites that horse, transmitting the infected blood. Since it is relatively impossible to eliminate blood sucking insects in and around horses, there is always the potential of a horse contacting EIA (and other bloodborne diseases) easily through blood sucking insects.

EIA can be present as an acute or chronic infection. Horses with the acute signs of the disease usually die within 2 to 3 weeks. Though in mild cases, the initial fever may be short lived (often less than 24 hours) and is not detected by the horse owner or veterinarian. These infected horses can recover and continue their normal existence, yet have the potential to infect other equine through blood sucking insects or show clinical signs of the disease again at a later time (chronic infection). Some horses, with the mild case of the disease, can for the rest of their life transfer the disease, through insects, to other horses. Only a negative Coggins testing result can identify “carriers” of the EIA disease.

In 1970 Leroy Coggins DVM, PhD developed a testing to identify the carriers of the disease during his research at Cornell University. The resulting “Coggins Test” became the official U.S. Department of Agriculture test in 1973 and served the equine industry and veterinary medicine with an important tool to control EIA.

When horse owners ask, why do I have to get a coggins testing on my horse? The answer is simple. A Coggins testing will identify infectious equine that have the potential of spreading this incurable disease. Remember that there is not a vaccine to prevent an equine from contacting the disease. This disease has the potential to severely affect the horse industry.

If a horse receives a positive EIA testing result, then the owner can immediately request another testing to verify the diagnosis. Unfortunately, horse owners owning a horse that tests positive for the disease face a grim outcome. There are two choices for positive testing results; euthanasia or lifetime quarantine. The United States Department of Agriculture, APHIS, has a fact sheet that explains in detail about Equine Infectious Anemia, including clinical signs, and what horse owners can do to reduce the risk of their horse contacting EIA.

Each state has different methods and regulations for imposing quarantines. If your horse has a positive testing result your horse/barn will be immediately placed under quarantine. State and local veterinarians will advise you on options of either euthanizing or lifetime quarantine. If you want to be pro-active in knowing your options (hopefully never needing to worry about it) contact your veterinarian who will be familiar with your state’s regulations. Horse owners must remember that there is not a vaccine or treatment for the disease and should feel responsible, for the good of the entire horse industry, in testing their horse to identify “carriers” and the potential threat of spreading the EIA disease.