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Queensland Itch

Tracy Soward-Amalfi: Equine Nutritionist

Dread comes across the minds of all horse owners with the words Queensland Itch. Queensland Itch is a skin condition that can render a working horse incapacitated and carries with it a terrible stigma. Also known as Summer Eczema, Qld Itch is a recurrent seasonal dermatitis caused by hypersensitivity to insect bites in particular Culicoides spp (midges).

Culicoides spp from the family Ceratopogonidae are around 2-3mm in size and are also referred to as “no seeums”. Midges are seasonal insects active in the spring and summer months and thrive in warm and humid environments. They breed and are often located on wet lands, coastal lagoons, mangrove swamps, tidal flats, rivers, lakes and standing water. Hence in Queensland this condition is most common in coastal areas.Midges are predominantly active around dusk and dawn and feed on specific sites on the horse. These sites include the head, tail, withers and base of mane.

Qld Itch is triggered by an allergic reaction to the saliva of the biting midge. The horses’ immune system goes into overdrive attacking the saliva (which contains harmless protein) and in the process attacks its own skin cells by mistake. The subsequent cell damage produces the symptoms of Qld Itch.The horse responds by rubbing, biting and itching often causing characteristic hairlessness and sometimes open ulcerated sores.

Cases of Qld Itch are easily recognised by the seasonal irritation and hairlessness on the withers, neck, crest, poll, ears, midline of the croup and the tail. Management of the Qld Itch is time consuming and there is no quick fix.

  • Removing horses from midge infested areas is ideal but not always practical.
  • Apply insect repellents as required and always patch test first to ensure that your horse doesn’t have a further reaction.
  • Use of topical applications such as lotions and shampoos (usually containing tea tree oil etc) help to sooth the skin and provide some relief for the horse .
  • Use protective items on the horse like specialist rugs.
  • Stable problem horses during dusk and dawn and in addition insect mesh on stables will help prevent infiltration of midges.
  • Stable fans can also help to reduce midge numbers around the barn as they are poor fliers and have limited activity during windy conditions.
  • Ensure that all organic matter and especially damp manure is not kept near horses as these present perfect conditions for the midges to breed.

his range of methods is helpful at treating and keeping this condition at bay however to date there is no cure for this condition. There is a group of overseas researchers currently trying to develop a vaccine that will help all horses and ponies inflicted with this condition. The above guidelines may help to sooth your horses condition.