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It’s time to get ready for the first show and you are reviewing your list of things not to forget. At the top of that list should be a current Coggins test. We all know it is important to have a Coggins test but do we know what it really does and do we know the legal effect of a positive Coggins test?
Every state has laws and regulations requiring horses to be tested for Equine Infectious Anemia. The test is called a Coggins test, named after the individual who discovered it. The Coggins test is simply a blood test designed to discover equine infectious anemia antibodies thus producing a positive test result. A positive test result on a Coggins test triggers laws which detail actions that must be taken or avoided by the horse owner. Each state has its own laws and regulations concerning transportation and reporting of horses which test positive and the law of your state should be specifically consulted. This article will deal with common applications of the law in respect to a Coggins test and a horse which has tested positive.
Equine Infectious Anemia, commonly called Swamp Fever, is an infectious virus transmitted by flies. It can be fatal, but, if the horse survives, the horse will remain a carrier of EIA for the rest of its life. There is no cure and currently no vaccine to prevent the disease. Thus, numerous laws and regulations have been established to prevent the spread of EIA.
Many horses infected with EIA exhibit no signs and the diagnosis can only be determined by a Coggins test. Overworking a horse or a great deal of stress can make the condition go from inactive to active and will include symptoms such as high fever, irregular heartbeat and lack of appetite.
Fortunately, the percentage of horses infected with EIA is low. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that less than one-fifth of one percent of the horses tested for EIA will test positive. It is interesting to note that many of the horses which test positive for EIA are found in southern states where the climate is more appropriate for flies to flourish and spread disease.
State law requires that blood drawn for a Coggins test must be drawn by a licensed veterinarian who must fill in very specific forms including a drawing of identification marks and characteristics of the horse being tested. The veterinarian must send the blood sample and form to a specifically approved laboratory for testing. The test results are then written into the forms which are sent to the veterinarian. The veterinarian will then supply these forms to the horse owner for interstate and intrastate travel. The written results are important and must be kept with the horse in the event of inspection by law enforcement.
No problem if the test results are negative, however, what happens if the test results are positive? First, I would advise that you immediately have another test taken for a “second opinion.” This will help eliminate any mistakes or mix-up of results. If the test remains positive, then the law is triggered to help prevent spread of the disease by the infected horse. Each state has laws and regulations to deal with the horse which has tested positive for EIA.
The law requires that the horse must be identified as infected, or termed a “reactor,” by either hot iron, chemical brand or freezing. Each state has a two-digit identification system followed by a capital A which must be branded on the left side of the horse’s neck to identify the horse, for life, as an infected EIA horse.
For example, Pennsylvania law, at Title III, Agriculture, Chapter 23 Section 3.221(f) reads as follows:
“(f) Reactors re-tested by Department: Branding. An equidae reported as a reactor will be identified and re-tested by the Department. The Department will identify the tested animal by the use of mane/tail and other identifying marks or tags that are in evidence at the time of the test. If the result of the re-test by the Department is positive, the Department will identify the positive re-tested animal with a brand marked “23A” signifying the animal as a reactor. It is unlawful to remove, deface, alter or otherwise change the tag or brand.”
Each state has a similar law. Thus, if you run across a horse with a two-digit brand and capital "A" on its left neck you should immediately be aware that this horse is an EIA reactor or carrier.
Once a horse is identified, as set forth above, the movement of the animal is severely restricted. The animal can be moved, by permit only, to approved facilities for research, slaughter facility or home farm if the quarantine method is to be used.
If the test results are positive you are limited in options: 1. You can opt for lifetime quarantine and strictly follow state law; 2. Slaughter; 3. Euthanasia. It appears the slaughter option may no longer be viable and certainly rescue operations are not interested in taking an infected horse with the strict quarantine requirements which exist under law. You can choose euthanasia, but again, this will require a veterinary fee and body disposal fee.
The owner could choose to quarantine the horse but the horse must be identified and branded as discussed above. States vary on quarantine laws but generally require a separation of two to three hundred yards from other horses and if the horse is kept inside, the stall must have fly-proof screening. This option is difficult and impractical in many cases.
Transporting the horse is also a major problem. Although Federal law does not require a Coggins test for interstate movement of horses, Federal law does prohibit the interstate movement of an EIA horse unless its destination is a slaughterhouse, research facility or home farm. State law requires a Coggins test generally within twelve months for horses brought or transported into the state. Some states lessen the amount of time to six months and even thirty days, so it is best to check the state where you are transporting the horse to be certain the Coggins test is up-to-date.
Once a horse is in a state the law differs on the need for a Coggins test. Most states do not require a Coggins test so long as the horse is not being transported out of state, shown at a fair, sold at an auction or raced. For example, Pennsylvania law at Section 3.22A of the Agricultural Code reads as follows:
“3.221 Equine Infectious Anemia.
(a) Test requirements. A test for equine infectious anemia is not required for intrastate movement of equidae unless required by individual racetracks, fairs, shows or sales.”
However, a minority of states require a Coggins test for a private sale and a few states require a horse be tested once a year for EIA. Again, check your state law to be sure.
In summary, state laws require a blood test, known as a Coggins test, to determine whether a horse is infected with the EIA virus. If a positive result is achieved, laws prohibit the movement of the horse except by permit and under very strict conditions and also prohibit the showing of a horse that tests positive or does not have a current negative Coggins test. A negative Coggins test is also required to transport a horse to another state or another country. A positive test result requires that the horse be euthanized or quarantined for the rest of its life.
Enough legal talk – it’s time to hitch horses!
Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, where a good bit of his practice involves negligence cases. Ken and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six horse hitch for the past few years at most major shows in the east.