Death of 3 Horses from Suspected Salmonella Triggers Miami Quarantine Center Closure

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Miami International Airport quarantine center operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jan. 18, 2019


The deaths of three horses from an outbreak suspected to be solmonella at the Miami Animal Import Center has led to the closure of the Florida quarantine facility for as long as 2 1/2 months during the peak of the world’s largest winter show circuit.

The closure was ordered by U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin Saturday to conduct what it described as “environmental testing” and to perform a complete cleaning and disinfection of the facility, one of two import centers on the United States East Coast, and that will last as long as Mar. 31. The other East Coast center is in New York.

Many of the Miami facility’s 95 horse stalls were closed for up to three months until late November because of delays in replacing flooring, that forced large numbers of imported horses to be rerouted through New York and Chicago then trucked more than 1,300 miles/2,100km to Wellington.

An estimated 15,000 horses from around the world congregate in Wellington for the winter circuit of 12 weeks of shows at the Global Dressage and Winter Equestrian Festivals, the Palm Beach Masters and smaller events as well as 16 weeks of polo.

Quarantine center operations are not affected by the current closure of parts of the U.S. government as a result of political squabbles in Washington.

But many in the horse industry have for years blamed serious fundamental weaknesses in implementation and management of quarantine procedures at American horse import centers, with outdated procedures, lack of equestrian experience by veterinarians and oppressive bureaucracy.

The USDA said it was closing the Miami import center to new arrivals “out of an abundance of caution after a handful of horses quarantined at the facility became sick.”

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service 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.”

So far, it said, three of six horses with salmonella symptoms, such as diarrhea, fever and lameness, have died. The other three horses are reported recovering.

Although APHIS claimed “a long history of safely quarantining imported horses upon arrival in the United States,” biosecurity and disinfection efforts have been increased.

“They 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.”

Horse import brokers were notified of the closure with what the USDA said was an apology for the inconvenience.

“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 APHIS statement said.

Salmonella was described by the USDA as “a type of bacteria that can cause intestinal disease in horses, cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, dogs, cats, birds, humans, and many other species. It is not uncommon for it to occur in facilities where many horses congregate, such as veterinary hospitals. Signs of salmonella in horses vary, but can most often include diarrhea, colic and shock.  While some animals may have very mild symptoms, others may have severe illness that can lead to death.”