Equine Infectious Anemia (“EIA”), a long-dreaded, infectious disease of horses, spread mostly by horse flies and deer flies (the “insect vectors”) made headlines again, when a man reportedly admitted to providing fraudulent EIA (“Coggins”) test records when selling his horse in Louisiana, as reported by Pat Raia, in the Horse.  Louisiana is one of several states where horses infected with this often fatal disease have often been identified, based on annual reports provided by USDA.

EIA, first identified in the U.S. in the late 1800’s, causes acute and chronic disease in horses, and can be prevented by decreasing or eliminating exposure to infected horses through vigorous testing; pest control to minimize exposure of potentially infected vectors; and following protocols to avoid the spread of the virus from contaminated needles and instruments used between horses for routine husbandry procedures.  No vaccines or specific treatment are available to treat infected animals.  Once diagnosed with the disease, horses are either euthanized or placed in strict quarantine for the remainder of their lives.  USDA’s factsheet on EIA provides more detailed information on this important equine disease.

Effective control over the transmission of this disease has been accomplished through a combination of federal and state regulations.  USDA’s Equine Infectious Anemia: Uniform Methods and Rules, dated January 10, 2007, provides:

  • Procedures and criterion for testing;
  • Procedures for handling infected or exposed horses; and
  • Other control procedures.

Many states, including New Jersey, have additional requirements governing the frequency of Coggins testing, often requiring negative tests prior to or upon importation into the state or a change in ownership of the horse.

Since 2011 there has been a decrease in EIA test-positive horses, as monitored and reported by USDA.

  1. In 2011 82 horses tested positive of the 1,681,570 tests performed on horses in the U.S.;
  2. In 2012 36 positive horses were identified from the 1,443,959 tests performed in the U.S.;
  3. In 2013 38 positive horses were identified from the 1,373,008 horses tested in the US.

With the downward trend in positive cases reported annually by USDA, there has also been a tendency by the states to decrease their testing requirements.  However, while the prevalence of the disease has certainly decreased, it has not been eradicated.  Furthermore, the illegal conduct of those few who may falsify test documents, increases the potential exposure of many uninfected horses.

If found guilty of falsifying Coggins reports, in addition to state penalties, the federal government provides for significant fines and imprisonment.

As indicated on the Coggins form:

“Falsification of this form or knowingly using a falsified form is a criminal offense and may result in a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than 5 years or both (U.S.C. Section 1001).”

If purchasing a horse, you should review all the information on the Coggins test form carefully, before finalizing the purchase.  If only provided by the seller, consider contacting the veterinarian who completed the form, to confirm the accuracy of the information provided.  While veterinary records are generally considered confidential, the seller should willingly permit such disclosures if they have nothing to hide.