The molecular epidemiology of equine influenza in Ireland from 2007–2010 and its international significance



Reasons for performing the study: Antigenic and genetic drift of equine influenza (EI) virus is monitored annually by the Expert Surveillance Panel (ESP), which make recommendations on the need to update vaccines. Surveillance programmes are essential for this process to operate effectively and to decrease the risk of disease spread through the international movement of subclinically infected vaccinated horses. Not only is surveillance necessary to inform vaccine companies which strains are in circulation, but it serves as an early warning system for horse owners, trainers and veterinary clinicians, facilitating the implementation of appropriate prophylactic and control measures.

Objective: To summarise the genetic analysis of EI viruses detected in Ireland from June 2007 to January 2010.

Methods: The HA1 gene of 18 viruses was sequenced and phylogenetic analysis undertaken.

Results: All viruses belonged to the Florida sublineage of the American lineage. Clade 2 viruses predominated up to 2009. The viruses identified on 4 premises in 2007 displayed 100% nucleotide identity to A/eq/Richmond/1/07, the current clade 2 prototype. The first clade 1 virus was identified in November 2009 and, thereafter, clade 1 viruses were responsible for all the outbreaks identified. The Irish clade 1 viruses differ from the clade 1 virus responsible for the EI outbreaks in Japan and Australia in 2007. No virus of the Eurasian lineage was isolated during this surveillance period.

Conclusions: In 2010 the ESP recommended that the vaccines should not include a H7N7 virus or a H3N8 virus of the Eurasian lineage but that they should contain both a clade 1 and clade 2 virus of the Florida sublineage. The surveillance data presented here support these recommendations and indicate that they are epidemiologically relevant.

Potential relevance: These data also serve as a scientific basis for investigating the source of epizootics and outbreaks both nationally and internationally.