What is equine insect bite hypersensitivity?

Insect bite hypersensitivity, more commonly known as IBH, is an affliction which affects some horses, becoming increasingly aggressive as the animal matures. Almost unheard of in youngsters under the age of four, susceptible animals suffer the increasingly irritating effects of an allergic reaction to the saliva of biting insects, which causes intense itching, rubbing, hair loss, sores and bleeding.

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Most horse owners will have seen the distress that the condition, known in the horse world as sweet itch, causes to affected animals. Throughout the Spring and Summer and into the Autumn, horses with IBH can be seen biting and rubbing affected areas, which tend to be along the mane and at the top of the tail, although the back, face, ears and belly can also be affected.

Why are some horses affected by IBH?

Scientists dont fully understand what it is that makes some horses more susceptible to IBH than others, but they suspect that genetics has a part to play. Some breeds are also more likely to develop the allergic reaction than others, with Shire horses, Shetland ponies, Welsh ponies and Icelandic horses known to be more likely than other breeds to suffer from this distressing skin condition.

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What causes IBH?

Horses get bitten by a variety of insects, but the ones most implicated in IBH include black flies, mosquitoes and horse flies. The principal culprit is believed to be the Culicoides midge, whose saliva contains a protein which irritates the skin of affected equines.

Can it be treated?

At present, there is no cure for the condition, although according to the BHS, a Swiss biotech company and an innovation company are currently collaborating on a vaccine that they hope to make available within the next four years. Until then, horse owners must manage the condition as best as they can.

Some popular treatments for sweet itch include the ever-popular https://www.stinky-stuff.co.uk/sweet-itch/, which not only treats damaged skin but also helps to repel the midges responsible for the condition too. Fly sprays are a popular line of defence, but most commercially available formulas simply arent strong enough to act as a deterrent.

Fly rugs and sheets can be a big help in combating the problem, but they need to be in use from March to October to ensure that the horse is adequately protected.

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