BEIRUT: The mayor of Beirut insisted Friday that the horse disease that led to the recent culling of 21 animals at the capital’s Hippodrome has been contained and that a final report will soon be issued by the Agriculture Ministry.
Holding a news conference at the site, Bilal Hamad said all relevant procedures had been taken and there was no possibility that the disease could be spread to humans.
While only two horses had tested positive for the disease, a further 19 were eventually destroyed. All horses were buried on site.
Hamad insisted that this was in line with regulations. “We were asked, as owners of the land, as the Municipality, how could we put these animals to death and bury them here?
But, he added, “There is a regulation by the Agriculture Ministry which states that you have to bury the animals in the exact area where they exhibited the disease.”
The initial two horses, Hamad explained, had been brought into the country from a farm in Syria, around which there were “question marks,” but as soon as the first symptoms were discovered, all horses in that stable were quarantined.
Samples were taken from the horses, under the supervision of the Agriculture Ministry and the World Organization for Animal Health and sent to Germany to be tested. But before the results were available some of the horses began displaying signs of the disease, and so a further 19 animals were put down.
Dr. Elie Rizkallah, resident veterinarian at the Hippodrome, said this was done as a precautionary measure.
“When you test an animal for the disease there could be many reasons to have a false positive, so it’s very difficult to know for certain if a horse has it. But international regulations stipulate that if a horse displays only two suspicious signs of the disease, you have to put the horse down.”
Glanders disease is highly contagious, and while normally found in horses, mules and donkeys, it can be spread to humans, and can be fatal. A neighborhood group in nearby Ras al-Nabaa had voiced concern over a possible outbreak of the disease in humans.
Hamad stated Friday that all necessary measures had been taken to prevent this transmission.
The two grooms who were in contact with the original two horses, before it was known they had the disease, underwent full blood tests which came back negative.
Members of the Hippodrome staff were tested Friday, during the news conference, for any visual symptoms, but none were said to have displayed any signs.
Although Glanders disease bacteria cannot survive in soil, Hamad continued, the 21 horses were buried far from any groundwater sources, under the guidance of hydro-geological experts.
Hamad also announced a new measure, which specifies any horse entering Lebanon must first undergo a period of quarantine, during which they will be subjected to more vigorous testing.
Rizkallah said that efforts to investigate the disease had been thorough. “Until now we have dealt with around 1,000 horses from across Lebanon – around 80 percent of all horses in the country – and we have not seen any signs of the disease,” Rizkallah said.
Nabil Nasrallah, the director of the Society for the Protection and Improvement of the Arabian Horse in Lebanon, which runs the track, hopes the Hippodrome, one of only two legal horse-racing courses in the region, will not be negatively affected by the controversy.
“I’m sure that the disease is over but according to international regulations we have to do tests for six months,” Nasrallah said.
Once this six months are up the Agriculture Ministry will release its “all-clear” report, Hamad said, and then a second report allowing horse-breeders to again export.