By Debbie James

Dozens of racehorses in yards across Wales are being tested for the equine flu virus amid fears that some may have come into contact with infected animals at Ludlow racecourse.

Pembrokeshire-based Cotts Equine Vets confirmed that it had tested over 120 racehorses in a 24-hour period last week and that figure can be multiplied several times across Wales.

Dr Shaun McKane, a director at the practice, confirmed that racehorses housed and homed in Pembrokeshire had been at Ludlow where horses from the infected yard raced on February 6, potentially exposing a significant number of horses to the virus.

Those animals and also horses they had come into contact with are being tested in a programme co-ordinated by the British Horseracing Authority and the Animal Health Trust.

Clinical signs of equine flu include fever, nasal discharge, a dry, hacking cough, loss of appetite and weakness.

Once the data from the national testing programme has been collated an announcement is expected on Wednesday (February 13) to establish how long the horse movement restrictions must stay in place.

“It will be a mammoth task to collate all of that data,’’ Dr McKane admitted.

He warned that it is not just thoroughbreds that are in danger from the virus.

“This virus has the potential to travel a distance of one mile or more,’’ he pointed out.

Other events that require horses to congregate, such as shows and eventing, are also the subject of restrictions.

Dr McKane said each group needed to consider the scale of risk.

“The higher the number of horses grouping together and the further the distance they need to travel to that gathering, the greater the chances are that there will be a problem.’’

But many hunts in Wales met as scheduled on Saturday following advice from their governing body, The Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA).

Huntsman Simon Jones, of the South Pembrokeshire Hunt, said that advice was to continue to meet as normal until further instruction.

“We will take action if the MFHA advises as such but based on the advice of the MFHA’s veterinary surgeon, hunts have been instructed they can continue to meet as normal,’’ he said.

Racing at the Welsh track Ffos Las was cancelled on February 7 and there are doubts over point-to-point meetings with the season due to get underway in Wales soon.

Dr McKane said the biggest concern was that the strain of flu appeared to be spreading from vaccinated horses, a situation not seen in the UK for many years.

The 70 per cent of horses in Wales not vaccinated against the virus are at greatest risk.

“Vaccinated horses won’t get particularly ill if they contract equine flu as the vaccine protects them from the worst elements of the virus but an unvaccinated horse can become quite sick, especially the very young and very old,’’ said Dr McKane.

“Rarely do they die but it can mean months of coughing and other problems.’’