The Biome of the lung

Dr Emmanuelle van Erck – Westergren, DVM, PhD, ECEIM

Equine Sports Medicine Practice (

Published in European Trainer October - December 2017, issue 59.

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Of bugs and horses

A couple of weeks ago, I was on an emergency call to a training yard. Half of the horses had started coughing overnight, some had fever and, as you’d expect when bad karma decides to make a point, the two stars of the premises due to face their greatest challenge to date the following  week, were dull and depressed. A thick and yellow discharge was oozing from their noses. It was not long before the yard became the typical scene of a bad strangles nightmare. The bacteria involved in strangles outbreaks are Streptococcus equi equi, highly aggressive and contagious germs, that spread fast and cause disruption in days of training and mayhem in tight racing schedules.

So what inevitably comes to mind when you hear the words germs or bacteria? No nice and friendly terms. As veterinarians, we have been taught that microorganisms are responsible for an endless list of gruesome diseases and conditions: abscesses, pneumonia, septicaemia ... you name it. They need to be identified and eradicated. Thank heavens; we still have an arsenal of antibiotics to get rid of the damn bugs. But recent research in human “microbiome” is making us think twice, especially as we aim to hit hard and large with antibiotics.

Never alone

Your healthy and thriving self, likewise your horse, host millions and trillions of bacteria. The “microbiota” is that incredibly large collection of microorganisms that have elected you and your horse as their permanent home. The microbiota is constituted not only by an extremely diverse variety of resident bacteria, but also by viruses, fungi and yeasts that multiply in every part of your external and internal anatomy. The discovery of this prosperous microbial community has triggered fascinating new research. It has unveiled the unsuspected links that exist between health, disease and the microbiota. In simple words, these microorganisms are vital to your strength and healthiness.

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