Equine Health Report: Kansas “pigeon fever” outbreak linked to drought

Posted on December 27, 2012

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Veterinarians at Kansas State University said the 2012 drought is most likely the cause behind an unprecedented state-wide outbreak of “pigeon fever”–an equine bacterial disease usually found in dry, arid climates.

The sickness gets its name from the large abscesses it produces, which often give infected horses’ chests a swollen, pigeon-like appearance.

Pigeon fever is typically found in desert climates like California and Southwestern states. In fact, the disease has been called Dry Land Distemper for just that reason. Veterinarians at KSU’s Veterinary Health Center usually see the disease only once or twice a year.

But during this outbreak, they’ve diagnosed 5-20 cases per week.
Dr. Laurie Beard, KSU’s clinical professor for equine medicine, said she believes the dryness and lack of rain this year has created the perfect condition for the bacteria that causes pigeon fever to grow in Kansas soil. Pigeon fever is probably most often transferred by flies and takes several weeks before symptoms are shown. Treatment involves lancing and draining the abscesses and putting the horse on anti-inflammatory medication.
I’m used to seeing this disease in California, but the new outbreak in Kansas is surprising. Certainly it can’t be limited to this state only. The widespread effects of drought are surely bringing the disease to other parts of the country where it isn’t normally seen. Veterinarians and horse owners should be aware of this possibility, and proper diagnosis and treatment methods.

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