Equine Infectious Anemia

The Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) virus belongs to the family Retroviridae. This group of viruses includes human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the immunodeficiency viruses of apes and monkeys (SIV), goats (CAEV), cats (FIV) and cattle (BIV). The virus persists in the horse’s white blood cells, and in the plasma (non-cellular portion of the blood) during febrile episodes. The amount of virus in the infected animal’s blood varies. Stress due to racing, heavy exercise, transport or illness due to other causes may elevate the amount of virus in the blood.

EIA virus is an enveloped virus, does not persist in the environment and is easily killed by most common disinfectants. The virus is viable (infective) for up to 96 hours on contaminated needles. The virus stays viable in the mouthparts of a biting fly for less than four (4) hours. Thus, horses in close contact with an infected horse are at risk of infection via fly bite.

Natural transmission occurs when a deer or horse fly bites and consumes a blood meal from an infected horse and transfers the virus via its mouthparts to another horse. Additionally, pregnant mares may pass the virus to the foal in utero or through the milk. Stallions can infect mares at breeding.

People can introduce virus to a naïve horse through the use of infected blood or blood products, or through the use of blood contaminated equipment such as needles, syringes, surgical instruments, dental equipment, tattooing equipment, or any other equipment.

Clinical Signs

Clinical signs can vary widely. Most infected horses are asymptomatic, showing no signs of disease. Acutely infected animals may develop a fever, go off feed or die suddenly. A chronically infected equine may develop non-specific signs such as weight loss, weakness, anemia and swelling of the legs, chest and abdomen. Stress or immunosuppression can lead to recrudescence of disease or to increased levels of viremia.

Diagnosis & Treatment

A serologic (blood) test confirms the diagnosis of EIA. The two most commonly used serologic tests are the agar gel immunodiffusion (AGID), commonly known as the “Coggins” Test, and the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). A positive test indicates the presence of EIA specific antibodies. The ELISA test can detect antibodies earlier than the Coggins test. As the ELISA test may produce false positive results, the confirmatory test for EIA is the AGID test. Only USDA-approved laboratories can perform EIA testing in the United States.

There is no known treatment for EIA. Infected horses become lifelong carriers and pose a risk of infection to other horses.  Therefore, if a horse is confirmed to be positive for EIA, management options are limited to:

  1. Euthanasia
  2. Lifetime quarantine, with permanent isolation at a minimum of 200 yards from all other horses. Positive horses must be permanently identified (tattoo, brand or microchip).

An epidemiologic investigation will be performed to determine the movement history of the infected equine and to identify other exposed horses or equids. Exposed equines will be quarantined and tested, and be subject to a retest 45-60 days after the removal of the EIA positive horse. Quarantine will remain in effect until negative retest results are received.

Prevention and Control

There is no approved vaccine for EIA in the United States. In order to prevent infection, follow these guidelines:

  • Practice good fly control by regular mucking of stalls, proper disposal of manure away from horse stabling areas and use of fly sprays or natural predators to minimize fly presence.
  • Use a sterile needle and syringe for all injections or treatments.
  • Disinfect any surgical or dental equipment thoroughly between horses. Remove all debris and blood with soap and water before disinfection.
  • Only administer commercially licensed blood products.
  • Use a sterile needle each time when puncturing a multi-dose medication bottle. Consult a veterinarian to demonstrate how to use sterile technique when drawing up medications.
  • Require proof of a recent negative Coggins test at time of purchase or for new horses entering the premises. Require an EIA test for horses which have spent time at a premises where EIA-positive horses have been identified.
  • Only participate in events that require evidence of a negative Coggins test for every horse entering the event to prevent disease introduction and spread.
  • Separate horses with fevers, reduced feed intake and/or lethargy from your other horses and contact your veterinarian.

Contact Us

CDFA Animal Health and Food Safety Services,
Animal Health Branch

1220 N Street
Sacramento, California 95814
Phone: 916-900-5002
Fax: 916-900-5333
Email: ahbfeedback@cdfa.ca.gov
Our offices are open 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Pacific Time.