Sweet Itch

Equine Culicoides hypersensitivity (Sweet Itch)

Sweet itch is an allergic skin disease affecting susceptible horses and ponies that become hypersensitive to the bites of midges of the genus Culicoides, with different species of midges having somewhat different preferential feeding sites on the body surface.

The allergic reaction develops at the site of feeding, and in the UK the majority of affected horses show skin lesions affecting the mane and tail and dorsal midline, although ventral midline symptoms may occur, and lesions around the ears and head.

The problem is characterised by intense itching (pruritus), which results in rubbing and considerable self-trauma, sometimes with secondary infection. Control of the condition can be problematic, with the main efforts directed towards preventing affected horses and ponies from being bitten and symptomatic treatment to control the effects of the allergy.

Research interest in the disease at the AHT is directed towards identifying allergic antibodies in the blood of horses specifically directed towards the Culicoides midges. With species-specific detection reagents, at present unavailable for equine patients, the definitive diagnosis of the disease could be made on a blood sample, rather than relying clinical picture or confirmation by intradermal skin testing. In addition, efforts are underway to identify genetic markers linked with the disease, since it is well recognised that the tendency to develop Sweet Itch runs in families of horses.

To find out more about the AHT why not visit their website www.aht.org.uk



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