African horse sickness (AHS) is an equine viral disease that is spread by Culicoides spp. Since the closely related disease bluetongue established itself in The Netherlands in 2006, AHS is considered a potential threat for the Dutch horse population. A vector-host model that incorporates the current knowledge of the infection biology is used to explore the effect of different parameters on whether and how the disease will spread, and to assess the effect of control measures. The time of introduction is an important determinant whether and how the disease will spread, depending on temperature and vector season. Given an introduction in the most favourable and constant circumstances, our results identify the vector-to-host ratio as the most important factor, because of its high variability over the country. Furthermore, a higher temperature accelerates the epidemic, while a higher horse density increases the extent of the epidemic. Due to the short infectious period in horses, the obvious clinical signs and the presence of non-susceptible hosts, AHS is expected to invade and spread less easily than bluetongue. Moreover, detection is presumed to be earlier, which allows control measures to be targeted towards elimination of infection sources. We argue that recommended control measures are euthanasia of infected horses with severe clinical signs and vector control in infected herds, protecting horses from midge bites in neighbouring herds, and (prioritized) vaccination of herds farther away, provided that transport regulations are strictly applied. The largest lack of knowledge is the competence and host preference of the different Culicoides species present in temperate regions.
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