Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said Jan. 16 in a stakeholder announcement that it is temporarily closing the Miami (Fla.) Animal Import Center to new arrivals after a handful of horses quarantined at the facility became sick.
APHIS said it is investigating to determine the specific cause of illness in these horses; however, officials suspect salmonella, and the facility is taking precautions to stop further disease spread.
The temporary closure becomes effective Jan. 19.
APHIS is conducting environmental testing at the facility, and the samples will be sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories for diagnostic testing. Before reopening, the facility will undergo a complete cleaning and disinfection, with disinfection targeted to any causative disease agent identified or suspected, APHIS said. Horses currently under quarantine at the facility are being closely monitored for any signs of illness.
According to the stakeholder announcement, to date, six horses have fallen ill with symptoms such as diarrhea, fever and lameness. Despite receiving immediate medical treatment, three of the horses died. The other three horses are recovering. APHIS said it will share more information once it is available.
The Miami Animal Import Center has a long history of safely quarantining imported horses upon arrival in the U.S. In response to the sick horses, APHIS said officials at the import center have increased biosecurity and disinfection efforts and are also reviewing standard operating procedures with employees and verifying that all procedures are being followed. Employees at the import center are exempted from the furlough, and the government shutdown has not affected operations or staffing at the facility.
Employees at the import center are reaching out to horse brokers who have upcoming reservations at the facility to notify them of the temporary closure and apologizing for the inconvenience. APHIS said horses that are already at the facility will remain at the import center to complete the quarantine process and will be released to their brokers as scheduled, unless the brokers seek alternate arrangements.
The import center has approximately 95 individual horse stalls available for quarantine purposes. In addition to horse facilities, the import center also has a separate quarantine area for birds. APHIS veterinarians are monitoring all birds under quarantine and have not seen any signs of illness. The avian facility will remain open, and intake of new birds will continue as scheduled, APHIS said.