February 25, 2011

The University of Kentucky Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center and Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory report an increase in the number of cases of fetuses and placentas submitted to the laboratory and diagnosed with nocardioform placentitis.

This is a unique form of bacterial placentitis affecting late gestation mares, causing abortion, stillbirth or foals born alive but compromised. This form of placentitis was first diagnosed in central Kentucky in the 1980s and has also been reported in other areas of the United States and abroad.

The number of nocardioform placentitis cases fluctuates from year to year. How mares become affected has not been determined. Nocardioform placentitis is typically a sporadic occurrence on the farm, however, and there is no evidence affected mares pose a risk to other mares in their herd.

Mares experiencing nocardioform placentitis breed back normally and are not at an increased risk for reoccurrence in subsequent pregnancies. While the number of cases has increased this year, incidence within the overall population of mares is very low, with less than 1 percent abortions reported.

According to researchers at UK, based on past observations, it is likely that the number of cases will return to average levels in future years.

The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory's epidemiology section constantly surveys the occurrence of animal diseases, and trends are immediately noted and monitored. A detailed epidemiological study is currently underway to identify risk factors associated with nocardioform placentitis.

"The VDL has constant surveillance for trends and emerging problems that allowed for early identification of the increase in placentitis cases. We will continue to monitor for the occurrence of this and other problems through epidemiology and diagnostic testing," said Neil Williams, professor and the laboratory's associate director. "The increased capabilities for surveillance we have built in the past several years allow us to catch syndromes early."

A survey will be sent to farm managers in the near future, and results will be used to complete a first-line analysis for risk factors. UK will then distribute a report of the findings. 

According to Mats Troedsson, director of the Gluck Center and chair of the department of veterinary science at UK, the Gluck Center, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and area veterinarians are currently engaged in collaborative research to better understand, diagnose and treat this type of placentitis better, as well as placentitis in general.

Farms are encouraged to submit to the lab any fetus (including placenta) that is aborted, as well as placentas from any live foalings where the placenta is judged to be abnormal or the foal is compromised. This is to understand the scope of the situation better and to provide research data.

To assist farms during this time of economic challenge, through support from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders and the College of Agriculture Department of Veterinary Science, the cost of examination of placentas from presumptive cases of nocardioform placentitis will be waived. It is important to limit the submission of placentas to those that are judged to be abnormal.

More information will be released as it becomes available.

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