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J Anim Sci. 2011 May;89(5):1552-60. doi: 10.2527/jas.2010-3368. Epub 2010 Oct 1.

Horse species symposium: contagious equine metritis: an insidious threat to the horse breeding industry in the United States.

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Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, Department of Veterinary Science, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KS 40546-0099, USA.


Contagious equine metritis (CEM) has given rise to international concern since it was first recognized as a novel venereal disease of equids in 1977 and the etiologic agent was identified as a previously undescribed bacterium, Taylorella equigenitalis. Horse industry concerns over CEM centered on the ease with which this bacterium could be disseminated, the significance of T. equigenitalis as a cause of short-term infertility in the mare, and the existence of the carrier state in the stallion and the mare. The first known outbreak of CEM in the United States was in Kentucky in 1978. The economic impact on the Thoroughbred industry in the state was substantial. Before 2008, additional small-scale outbreaks occurred in Missouri in 1979, Kentucky in 1982, and Wisconsin in 2006, nearly all attributed to the importation of carrier animals. On each occasion, appropriate measures were taken to eliminate the infection, resulting in the United States regaining its CEM-free status. With the exception of the 1978 occurrence in Kentucky, none of the subsequent outbreaks significantly affected the horse industry. That changed dramatically in 2008, however, after the discovery of a Quarter horse stallion in Kentucky that cultured positive. Subsequent investigations turned up 23 carrier stallions and 5 carrier mares belonging to 11 breeds and located in 8 states. Shipment of infective semen and indirect venereal contact in stallion collection centers through the use of contaminated fomites were major factors in the spread of T. equigenitalis. Trace-back investigations of some 1,005 exposed and carrier stallions and mares in 48 states have failed to identify the origin of this latest CEM event. Neither clinical evidence of CEM nor decreased pregnancy rates were reportedly a feature in infected or exposed mares. In light of these findings, there was some question of whether or not the considerable expense incurred in investigating the latest CEM occurrence was warranted. Regaining CEM-free status for the United States will present considerable challenges.

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