Clients & Visitors

Treating Infectious Diseases at the EMC


The EMC's Isolation Unit has eight stalls, each individually ventilated so there is no risk of cross-contamination among patients in those stalls.

Infectious diseases in horses can be caused by viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections. A few examples are:

  • Equine Influenza Virus
  • Equine Herpes Virus
  • infections with Salmonella spp.
  • infections with Streptococcus equi spp. (also known as strangles)
  • Lyme disease
  • Potomac Horse Fever

The most common diseases that require isolation of the patient are those which are associated with diarrhea (salmonellosis, clostridiosis, and rotavirus in foals) and respiratory disease (influenza, and strangles). Some hospitalized horses are at increased risk of contracting a contagious infection because of the physiologic stress they are under due to their primary disorder. The Equine Medical Center’s biosecurity measures and isolation facilities ensure a safe hospital environment for all of our patients.

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The Isolation Unit

The EMC's state-of-the-art Isolation Unit provides a critical service to the mid-Atlantic region by allowing horses with potentially contagious diseases to be physically separated from hospitalized horses and the general equine population to minimize the risk of patient-to-patient infection. The Isolation Unit, a biosafety level 2 facility, also provides:

  • Eight individually ventilated stalls under negative air pressure to prevent cross-contamination.
  • A temperature-controlled environment that is conducive to the recovery of critically ill horses with potentially contagious illnesses.
  • An effective method for disposing of potentially infective waste material.

Biosecurity measures

Biosecurity measures are as important at referral hospitals as they are at each farm. At the EMC, any horse suspected to have an infectious disease will be admitted to the Isolation Unit to limit exposure of animals and personnel. This is essential for the prevention of any disease outbreaks in the hospital population.

We adhere to strict biosecurity guidelines throughout the hospital and follow rigorous cleaning protocols:

  • Hospital stalls are scrubbed with a chemical soap disinfectant.
  • Isolation stalls are disinfected two times, and all equipment associated with that patient is disinfected and cultured to make sure that no organisms are present after cleaning.
  • Biohazard waste is stored in special containers and hauled away to be incinerated.

The spread of infectious diseases

Equine diseases are spread in a variety of ways, including:

  • direct contact between horses
  • contact with feces
  • contact with insect or animal vectors
  • contact with aerosol particles
  • contact with contaminated needles

Often overlooked but equally important modes of disease transmission include contact with contaminated equipment, tack, transport vehicles, clothing, boots, or hands. Apart from contaminated apparel or hands, humans themselves also can be a source of infection.

Contact with other horses at events/shows is another common way of spreading disease. It is important to limit close contact with other horses as much as possible. Owners should bring their own equipment to these events and not share equipment with other participants. Upon returning home, show horses should be stabled away from other resident horses that rarely leave the farm to limit their exposure to infectious diseases. The equipment used during the event as well as the truck and trailer should be cleaned and disinfected upon return to the farm.

Among the various water sources used on animal facilities, surface water—such as a pond, river, stream, or cistern—presents a great concern for disease exposure because it is difficult to control water quality and to limit exposure to insects.

A Coggins test for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) and a screening test for strangles or history of no occurrence in the previous 6 months are essential for preventing the occurrence of infectious diseases on a farm.

Quarantining a new horse on your property

The most common way infectious diseases are spread is via a new horse arriving at the property. It is essential to isolate any new horse from the resident horses for at least two weeks. During that period the isolated horse should be checked twice daily for presence of fever or any signs of illness. Separate equipment (buckets, grooming supplies, tack, stable equipment) should be used for the new arrival. The isolated horse should always be handled last or protective wear such as disposable boots and overalls should be worn.

Best management practices for reducing the spread of disease

Good husbandry practiced daily is the most effective way to reduce the spread of disease.

  • Horses should be checked daily for any signs of illness or injury.
  • Worming and vaccination programs should be implemented and records of each horse should be maintained.
  • Manure should be picked up at least once daily in stalls and paddocks; pastures should also be cleaned on a regular basis.
  • Water buckets and troughs need to be cleaned daily.
  • Any ill horses should be isolated from the rest of the population. A veterinarian should be contacted immediately.

Vermin and insect control

Vermin and insect control are essential in the prevention of infectious diseases such as Lyme disease and Potomac Horse Fever. Steps to deter insects and vermin can include:

  • using insect repellents
  • emptying the manure pit regularly
  • storing water and feed in vermin-proof containers
  • disposing of old and un-eaten feed
  • limiting spots for vermin to hide and breed

Cleaning and disinfecting equipment

Proper cleaning and disinfection of stable equipment, tack, grooming supplies, truck and trailer should be performed regularly. Cleaning consists of removal of any organic material and washing in soapy water. Tools, buckets, and grooming supplies should be disinfected with bleach. Transport vehicles, tires, stable floors and walls, and stable equipment should be disinfected with quaternary ammonium compounds. It is also important for personnel to maintain hygiene by washing hands or using alcohol wipes between the handling of different horses especially when sick horses are present at the farm.

For more information

  • For more information, call 703-771-6800 or email
  • The EMC's Visitation - Biosecurity Guidelines (PDF) outline the hospital's regulations and requirements with regard to our patients, particularly those in the Isolation Unit.
  • View the Client Care Packet (PDF) to learn more about the facilities, services, staffing, and policies at the EMC.