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NEV was first identified in 2013 by veterinary surgeon Dr Isabel Fidalgo Carvalho, who went on to found Equigerminal to develop a commercially viable NEV diagnostic test that can be used by veterinary surgeons, vet labs and horse owners.
Isabel says that NEV - the equine equivalent of HIV - is often misdiagnosed or hidden by other diseases that induce similar symptoms, like anaemia and neurological issues in horses. It is most commonly confused with the Swamp Fever virus (EIAV) and Equine Herpesviruses (EHV).
Indeed, when they tested a number of horses with anaemia, Equigerminal researchers first believed they had found the presence of a divergent strain of the Swamp Fever Virus (EIAV) - because the horses cross reacted with EIAV, but were negative in the official tests. Subsequent research found they were actually suffering from NEV.
Equigerminal says it is believed that NEV is present in up to 10% of horses. Isabel said: "We did test 213 samples from Ireland and found 7% of positive samples for NEV. These Irish horses were horses that usually travel to UK and other locations for sports events."
For the new test, a veterinary surgeon needs to take a blood sample which is sent to the Equigerminal lab.
Isabel says treatment is currently targeted towards improving the general well-being of the horse, health monitoring, and boosting the animal’s immune system. The next stage is to find a treatment, and ideally a cure for NEV. Meantime, Isabel said: “We now need to raise awareness of the problem and help vets to diagnose this disease correctly.”
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