Trying to make sense of African Horse Sickness or AHS

21st December 2012
Beryl Shuttleworth
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I have never personally undergone the agony of watching my horse die the horrible, painful death that is associated with African Horse Sickness. But I have many friends who have done this. And I too cried, when reading Douglas Welsh’s heartbreaking account of the death of his top event horse a few years back.

This year seems worse than ever before. More deaths, more dubious remedies, more conspiracy theories. If my horse got AHS today, I wouldn’t know where to start! For this reason, I have decided to try to make some order of the chaos out there and take a good hard logical look at what options are available to us.

Some things are no-brainers:

  1. Vaccinated horses have a  higher survival rate than unvaccinated horses, according to the AHS trust stats. Vaccinate.
  2. AHS is a notifiable disease. If you have a horse with suspected AHS, you are required by law to confirm the diagnosis and to notify the state vet.
  3. Don’t self-medicate your horse without consulting a vet. Clear any supplements/natural remedies etc. with him or her first. And dosages of drugs like Bute are even more critical than normal. Vets do know their stuff.
  4. Rumours and conspiracy theories mostly just waste our time.
  5. If it looks too good to be true!

I haven’t put everything on this list. I left out the techniques, the pharmaceuticals, the homeopathics and the machines. But I think I have included the main alternative remedies that people seem to be using. I have then put down the Pro’s and the Con’s. I have included everything I have heard, read and thought about, including anecdotal evidence, and tried to keep an open mind. It is up to you to make sense of it, if you can.

I haven’t included Immune mix, as that is my product and, obviously, I am biased. ;-)

Colloidal Silver


  1. Several people have reported success using Winning Performance’s  Anti-Viral kit. Which has colloidal silver as a component.  Winning Performance claims a 80% success rate against AHS.
  2. Silver was widely used to treat many diseases before the advent of antibiotics.
  3. Long term toxicity shouldn’t be a factor in a AHS treatment, which won’t continue for months.


  1. Colloidal silver kills bacteria on contact, and therefore can be described as an antiseptic. It is widely claimed to act as an antibiotic, but, because it is not absorbed when taken orally, this is incorrect.  Anyway, AHS is a virus, not a bacteria.
  2. Silver is a heavy metal and is toxic when ingested. It has a cumulative effect and is laid down in various tissues where it reacts with sunlight and forms bluish-grey deposits.. Long term intake results in organ failure and death.
  3. FDA warnings.
  4. Very little scientific evidence.
  5. No clinical trials.

Intravenous Formalin


  1. Formalin inactivates the AHS virus in vitro (in a test tube).
  2. I heard (second hand) about someone who used this method successfully – 9 out of 10 cases survived.


  1. In vitro inactivation does not necessarily translate to in vivo (in a body) inactivation.
  2. No scientific evidence.
  3. No clinical trials.
  4. Toxic by inhalation, contact with skin and if swallowed. Burns. Causes sore throat, stomach pains, diarrhoea.
  5. Corrosive, damages mucous membranes – logically damage to the vein must occur, but no info available on this.

Immunity 101/105 (MMS) (Oxidising Agent)


  1. Many anecdotal success stories. Survival rates up to 90% reported.  Even on unvaccinated horses.
  2. Long term effects seem to be minimal. Horses successfully treated two years ago still competitive and well.
  3. Some burning of mouth and transient colic reported.


  1. Supposed to work via oxygenation. This is unlikely as oxygen is not absorbed orally. Luckily – if it was it would be very dangerous.
  2. MSDS: “Chlorine dioxide is explosive in the gaseous phase at concentrations greater that 10% by volume. Do not allow chlorine dioxide to accumulate within a confined space.” Like a stomach? Please don’t overdose!!!
  3. No scientific evidence.
  4. No clinical trials.
  5. FDA warning: Can cause vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure,  severe dehydration.
  6. Dr Gouws: “If 1ppm is safe and 19ppm is fatal how much is your horse getting – something in-between?”

So what do we do? Risking a burnt mouth, colic or skin discolouration is probably worth it if the horse survives AHS. And obviously using something for a very short time limits the damage it can cause. But long term effects? And can we trust these anecdotal reports? Facebook does have limitations. ;-)

There are things on this list that deserve some good research and clinical trials done on them. At least then we would know, once and for all whether or not to risk using them. But being unpatentable, this is unlikely to happen.

Probably this year is the best chance we have got of comparing notes and possibly getting an idea about what really works, what side-effects occur, how the recovered horses cope going forward, what to avoid and what to promote. Let’s keep talking.

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Trying to make sense of African Horse Sickness or AHS
Trying to make sense of African Horse Sickness or AHS
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