March 25, 2005 | By: Terri McLean
Lexington, KY

It’s simple, it’s safe and it has proven successful in detecting a highly infectious disease in horses.

It’s the Coggins test, and horse owners who take their horses to shows, races, or other events where horses congregate should not leave home without one.

More specifically, they should not transport their horses without proof of a negative Coggins test. A negative result ensures that a horse does not have equine infectious anemia, a serious, often fatal viral disease for which there is no cure. This blood-borne infection often is called swamp fever and is commonly transmitted by insects such as flies and mosquitoes.

“While the incidence is low in Kentucky, it is important that you have your horses tested and when moving them, for whatever reason, have a copy of the current test results with you,” said Bob Coleman, Extension equine specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

The state veterinarian’s office, a division of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, requires a negative Coggins or similar test for EIA within the previous 12 months when transporting horses to locations where they will be in close proximity to other horses. Horses that are sold or given away also must have a negative test within the previous 12 months. The only exceptions are weaned foals accompanied by their dams.

“There are people who work for the state veterinarian’s office who stop trailers going down the road,” Coleman warned. “They will show up at horse shows and trail rides, whatever the event might be. You may not get checked every time, but they will come and check.”

Although other states may vary slightly in their regulations, Coleman said that most are as vigilant as Kentucky in tracking EIA. 

“If you’re going outside the state of Kentucky, find out what the regulations are and make sure you meet them before you leave home,” he said.

Coleman said fear of being caught without proof of a negative Coggins test should not be the motivating factor for testing horses for EIA, however. Instead, preventing the spread of this serious disease should be the top priority of everyone in the horse industry.

EIA can appear as either a fatal acute disease or as a chronic disease. Symptoms include anemia, intermittent fever, depression, hemorrhages, progressive weakness and loss of weight. Horses that have the chronic form of EIA usually have intermittent attacks. Some die during these attacks.

Most horses infected with the EIA virus show no clinical signs. These are the horses considered most dangerous because stable mates, pasture mates, and others kept in close proximity can be unknowingly infected.

The Coggins test, which can be done by a veterinarian, was developed in 1970 and screens blood samples for exposure to the virus that causes EIA. Although there is another test for detecting EIA, called the ELISA (or CELISA), the Coggins test is considered the “gold standard,” Coleman said. 

“Before you get busy with all your horse activities this spring, make sure your Coggins test is up to date,” he said.

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Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276
Source: Bob Coleman 859-257-9451


Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276

Contact: Bob Coleman 859-257-9451