An ANSES unit becomes the international reference laboratory for an equine parasitic disease

The Physiopathology and Epidemiology of Equine Diseases (PhEED) Unit, within the Normandy site of ANSES's Laboratory for Animal Health, has just been appointed international reference laboratory for dourine, an equine parasitic disease. This mandate was announced by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) on 16 June, and is the first international mandate for the Normandy-based unit. Within the laboratory, Laurent Hébert becomes the designated expert.

This appointment by the OIE reinforces the PhEED Unit's international reference activities. The Normandy site is already the national and European reference laboratory for several equine diseases, including dourine. This disease is caused by a sexually-transmitted parasite, Trypanosoma equiperdum. The first symptoms include oedema, especially of the genitals, severe anaemia and significant weight loss. The parasite can then pass into the nervous system, causing progressive muscle paralysis. In half of cases, these symptoms cause the death of the animal. There is currently no effective treatment for the disease. The solution used to prevent its spread is therefore the slaughter of infected horses. As a result of this protocol, no case of dourine has been reported in France since the 1950s. However, cases occurred in Italy in 2011, underlining the need to continue monitoring the spread of the parasite.

Expertise on a global scale

The PhEED Unit's work on dourine is already internationally renowned: it supplies the control antigens and sera needed for diagnosis of the disease. As a reference laboratory, the team are sometimes required to analyse samples sent from other countries to confirm or rule out a suspected case of dourine. The Unit also provides training on diagnostic methods and monitors the performance of laboratories responsible for detecting dourine. Lastly, its expertise can be sought on any subject related to the disease, particularly in the event of an outbreak. The Unit already performed these tasks for France and Europe, and will now carry them out on a global scale.

Research to understand the parasite that may also benefit human health

Besides the above-mentioned activities, the PhEED Unit conducts research to better understand the parasites that cause dourine and other related diseases. This is especially the case with surra and nagana, two animal diseases that – like dourine – are caused by parasites of the genus Trypanosoma. The pathogen responsible for sleeping sickness in humans is another example. Joint work is under way with the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, to share knowledge on these animal and human diseases.

The World Organisation for Animal Health

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is responsible for improving animal health worldwide. It has 182 member countries. Each of them is required to notify the OIE of any animal diseases reported in their territory. The organisation collects and disseminates all the available scientific information on these diseases. It also offers its expertise to control and eradicate outbreaks in livestock, particularly in poor countries. Lastly, the OIE publishes reference international health rules for international trade in animals. ANSES's laboratories hold several international mandates issued by the OIE.

The Laboratory for Animal Health

ANSES's Laboratory for Animal Health has been located on two different sites since October 2018: Maisons-Alfort (Val-de-Marne) and the Normandy site in Goustranville (Calvados). It covers all spheres of infectiology in animal health, and focuses on animal diseases that pose major health risks to both animals (epizootics) and humans (zoonoses). The Normandy site specialises in the physiopathology and epidemiology of equine diseases. The Laboratory for Animal Health holds several national, European and international (OIE and FAO) reference mandates.