Discovering new viruses causing equine respiratory disease

Respiratory disease is a major concern for the equine industry worldwide. It is likely multifactorial, and involves complex interactions between different pathogens, the environment and the horse. Several viruses have been associated with respiratory disease in horses including several herpesviruses, adenoviruses or rhinitis viruses. One important limitation of the traditional methods to investigate the viruses in clinical samples is the fact that only culturable viruses, or viruses with known genetic make-up, can be identified. Thus, unexpected or new viruses would escape detection.

This means that there may be many currently unidentified viruses that are still waiting to be discovered. For example, in a study carried out on a group of coughing Thoroughbred horses in Australia, no microbes could be identified using currently available methods, suggesting that the cause of respiratory problems in those horses were some unidentified pathogens. Understanding which viruses might be involved in equine respiratory disease is a pre-requisite for establishment of any successful control and prevention strategies.

The goals of this project are to develop new laboratory methods for the detection of unknown equine respiratory viruses, to establish which equine respiratory viruses are present in New Zealand, and to find out more about any new viruses which may be identified during the course of this work.

Project Update

We have validated molecular methods for detecting unknown viruses in clinical samples by spiking samples with known viruses, which we then had to “discover” in the spiked samples. We are collecting nasal swabs from horses with respiratory disease. These swabs are currently being processed using traditional virological methods, including virus culture and virus-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays. Several viruses have already been identified in the collected samples, including four different types of equine herpesviruses and two types of equine rhinitis viruses. Recent results indicate that viral infections are common among horses with respiratory disease. Nasal swabs have been submitted for next generation sequencing to search for any new viruses that may be present but which have not been identified by traditional methods.


Want to know more?

This is a Masters project, supervised by Magda Dunowska and being undertaken by Kaylyn McBrearty.

Project Support

This work is funded by the Equine Trust.

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