Show season is here! You and your horse will travel to a local show, perhaps to another state, or even across the country. Your horse is vaccinated, registered, and ready to go. You know there is a potential for exposure to disease, so at the show, you try to limit his contact with other horses. If you could see the pattern of potential contacts at the horse show, what would it look like?
Using network analysis, a method from social media research, researchers at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph described the network of contacts between horses at a 2-day dressage show in Ontario Canada.
Ninety-six competitors kept their horses in three different locations at the show – an outside covered arena (cover all), a barn, or a trailer in a field. Show attendees completed a questionnaire about contacts with other horses. Using the answers from the competitors, the researchers developed a network graph (see figure). The figure shows the relationships between the three locations at the fairgrounds, the horses attending the show (primary contacts), and the horses stabled at the home facility (secondary contacts). The lines represent connections between horses and locations.
From: Descriptive and network analyses of the equine contact network at an equestrian show in Ontario, Canada and implications for disease spread. BMC Veterinary Research. Authors: Kelsey L. Spence, Terri L. O’Sullivan, Zvonimir Poljak and Amy L. Greer. Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph.
The graph shows a high degree of connectivity from horses from the home location (the black dots). The horses attending the show (blue dots) have a less dense pattern. “Only 8% (69/820) of the nodes in the network represented horses that were competing at the show, while 87% (710/820) represented horses stabled at individual home facilities,” according to the authors. The “home barn” contacts represent additional opportunities for contact, in addition to the relatively sparse connection density of horses at the show.
This, according to the researchers, is something to keep in mind when considering strategies for disease intervention and biosecurity. “Simply planning disease intervention strategies based on the horses that attended the show without explicit consideration of secondary contacts would severely underestimate the resources required to control a potential outbreak,” say the authors.
Visualizing equine contact patterns the same way we visualize social media contacts or computer local area networks could be helpful in determining biosecurity policies and heading off disease outbreaks.
The paper is freely available on the BMC Veterinary Research website. You can read it here.
Descriptive and network analyses of the equine contact network at an equestrian show in Ontario, Canada and implications for disease spread.