Emergency diseases in horses

Page last updated: Tuesday, 1 March 2022 - 10:49am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Other less common but significant horse diseases


Surra is caused by a blood parasite, Trypanosoma evansi, which is spread by biting flies. Surra is most severe in horses, donkeys, mules, deer, camels, llamas, dogs and cats. The only Australian case of surra was found in imported camels at Port Hedland in 1907. Surra occurs in South America, and from Northern Africa, through the Middle East and Asia to Indonesia.


Anthrax is present in many countries, including Australia. Most cases in Australia occur in cattle and sheep, and occasionally pigs.

Now, outbreaks are largely sporadic, especially in the central western plains of New South Wales.


Rabies is present in most countries but does not occur in Australia, the UK, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea or the Pacific Islands. Many species, including horses, are ‘dead-end’ hosts (that is, they cannot transmit the virus to other animals). Horses always die from rabies.

Equine piroplasmosis (equine babesiosis)

Equine piroplasmosis (or equine babesiosis) is a tick-borne protozoal disease caused by Babesia equi or B. caballi. B. caballi has not been identified in Australia. Australia is free from equine piroplasmosis, although an outbreak due to B. equi was diagnosed in 1976 in the Moss Vale region of New South Wales. The disease was very mild, and most infections were subclinical.

Vesicular stomatitis

Vesicular stomatitis is confined to North and South America, with recent outbreaks having occurred in North and Central America. It is a viral disease of horses, cattle and pigs.

Particular significance is placed on the recognition of clinical signs in cattle and pigs because they are virtually indistinguishable from the lesions seen in foot-and-mouth disease. Horses are not affected by foot-and-mouth disease.


The bacteria Burkholderia mallei causes glanders, and affects all equids with donkeys being the most susceptible before mules. Australia is free of glanders. The disease is endemic in areas of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America and continues to be reported in Brazil, China, India, Iran, Iraq, Mongolia, Pakistan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The most recent outbreaks have occurred in South America and the Middle East.

Horse biosecurity

For information about keeping your horses healthy through good biosecurity practices, see the DPIRD horse biosecurity webpage.

Contact information

Sue Skirrow
+61 (0)8 9892 8490