Horse Racing

Commendation for 50 years of Vigilance against Cattle Diseases

Over the past few years, virologists must have become quite annoyed to hear so many of us appoint ourselves night-time experts on the best ways to deal with pandemics. But it was an experience familiar enough for Dr. Peter Timoney, thinking back 20 years to the difficult time when Bluegrass was spooked by Mare Reproductive Syndrome (MRLS).

At the exact moment when his skills are most precious, as the world authority on equine virology based right here at the University of Kentucky, his work becomes literally ungrateful.

“Oh yeah, you felt like you were in stocks,” he recalls. “And of course the expectation is that you should have 20-20 hindsight. ‘Why don’t you do this, why don’t you do it?’ It all becomes very fast and furious, human nature is still…”

He allows himself one of those wry smiles that is rarely far-fetched as he converses with this immaculate, dashing, and well-mannered character whose true standing in our community can be truly judged. more precisely through the Lifetime Contribution Award he just received from the Kentucky/Kentucky Thoroughbred Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. As their quote states: “There is no one more respected or admired on the subject of infectious diseases, either nationally or internationally, than Dr. Peter J. Timoney, MVB, MS, PhD, FRCVS , professor and Frederick Van Lennep Chair at the Gluck Horse Research Center. ”

But the alphabetical distinction and the difference in form, which can be extended infinitely, feels almost coincidental with the still greater status implied in the first half of that sentence – nurtured, as it were. inherent, by a tireless spirit of inquiry and service. In the words of one of Kentucky’s top ranch managers, Timoney is “speed dialing any equine lab in the world where they stumble across something that unsettles them.”
While grateful that his community has found ways to ease the hardships of retirement, Timoney reflects on his award with uncompromising humility.

“It’s been a thought for them,” he said, “and I’m extremely honored that I didn’t deserve it,” he said. “It’s not that I haven’t been in the industry on both sides of the Atlantic, for some very important years. In fact, it’s been 50 years since I became a species expert. But for me there is no greater joy or difference to this day than the presence of Mr. Bassett. “

A considerable amount of time even in Ted Bassett’s years measures their friendship. They recently shared a meal in the Keeneland racetrack kitchen. John Williams was sitting at the adjoining table and the next thing Timoney knew that the pair had joined in on a song. “Oh, that’s the choice!” he blurted out – an expression that captivated the Irish lilt, light and precise, he still retains after all these years.

And suddenly, no less typical, you realize that we are no longer talking about Timoney’s latest prize.

It turns out that he likes to discuss his own limitations and the limitations of his field. The latter, of course, diminishes – which helps explain Timoney’s reluctance to make things easier now. But like a general who learns to read his opponents’ minds, through a long siege, he will never lose awe of the way Nature, in her fiercest outfit, always one step ahead.

“How many viruses have we actually destroyed?” he asks. “Second is smallpox and rotting disease. That’s it. The virus will backfire by eliminating the host species it infects. You drink the African Horse Sickness. In domesticated horses like Equus caballus, certain forms of the disease can kill 90 to 95 percent of infected individuals within a week of exposure. What about the mules? Yes, they do get sick but the mortality rate is less, maybe 50%. As for donkeys, depending on the type under discussion: in European donkeys, the virus can kill between 40 and 50%. But this is not the case in the case of African donkeys that survive infection. They have been around for a considerable amount of time. Over time, agents and their servers learn to adapt.

“Nature is wonderful. Take the bat, the single largest class of Mammals: there are an estimated 6,000 different species. Source of rabies, SARS-1 virus, SARS-CoV-2: no virus has any clinical effect. But it’s amazing, look what they’re capable of doing to humans. “

Timoney will always cherish the insights gained as a graduate student in the 1960s, when privileged to participate in meetings among renowned pioneers in zoology (i.e., zoology research). research arthropod vectors such as mosquitoes). Gifted with instinct and very good observational skills, they figured out how certain viruses spread to humans and persisted in nature, he said. “The forerunner of what was then extended in the era of molecular diagnostics. I will never forget to listen to Karl Johnson describe what he discovered regarding hemorrhagic fever in Bolivia, caused by the Machupo virus, which can lead to fatal infections in humans. At the time, there was no opinion on how people were exposed to the virus. He investigated a range of rodents and discovered that one small species of mouse, Calomys callosus, was susceptible to the virus and was constantly infected – but the virus failed to kill it. The virus is localized in the kidneys and is excreted in the urine. Unfortunate individual contact with contaminated food or any kind of fomite [material carrying infection] are at risk of being exposed to the virus and many people have developed the disease. “

One of Timoney’s early mentors was “one of the true virus hunters,” a Texan who spent years working in Africa and South America and identified several viruses; and previously worked under Dr. Kenneth Smithburn, who discovered the West Nile virus in Uganda in 1937. Timoney accepts the baton consciousness passed down from generation to generation; perseverance and fostering of science. In that sense, he urges today’s graduate students to go back and see some of the deductive work published in 19th-century medical journals, when laboratory diagnosis was still in its infancy. declare.

“Some of those articles are great recommendations,” he said. “I think our powers of observation and inference are probably not as refined as those of the original investigators. Today, we have been spoiled by the multitude of advanced diagnostics available to us. ”

Now that technology has made deep sequencing much more affordable and rapid than it was 5 years ago, it is possible to identify additional agents that have never been recognized or have ever been described as “orphans” because they cannot be linked to an epidemic.
Such effects are crucial whenever science finds itself in a race against the clock to find the cause of a new disease. It’s hard to imagine the sinking feeling Timoney had to go through when the MRLS hit. Although hindsight, as he has remarked, is all very well, he reflects poignantly on the time, several decades ago, when one of the largest ranches in Kentucky sent the fetuses were expelled for analysis which may represent cases of MRLS.

“A strain of strep bacteria was being isolated, which we felt at the time was not the cause of the problem,” he recalls. “But what we didn’t know was that there was a background increase that year in tent caterpillar numbers. By 2001, the later ones were everywhere, they were found in suburban Lexington. One cannot step outside without putting their feet on them. The horses ate them during grazing, and the caterpillar’s attempt pierced the wall of the small intestine. Bacteria from the digestive tract are carried through the bloodstream to the uterus of a pregnant woman. Shockingly, up to a third of pregnancies are lost that breeding season. A terrible consequence for the industry to suffer.”

By the next year, the farms had adapted. They cut down cherry trees, and kept mares indoors or muzzled them in the pasture. Timoney’s career certainly requires a thick skin. As a young veterinarian in rural England, he recalls, seconded by the UK Department of Agriculture to assist with the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic in the late 1960s, depression was associated in some schools. circumstances caused the farmer to take his own life.

“The first cases I had with this dreaded disease involved the number 3 Ayrshire herd in the UK,” Timoney recounts. “And all I can do is share the anguish and grief of the affected farmers. The images of the resulting desolation will never leave you. ”

Timoney has indeed been drawn into the horse world in the wake of another crisis. He was still working on cattle and sheep diseases when several famous purebred breeds in southern Ireland were attacked by the neurological form of Equine Herpesvirus 1 in 1972. That prompted the Department of Agriculture to assign the task. back to him to do new research. equine disease department at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory.

After a period of intensive training in the US and Canada, he founded and headed the new division for six years until 1979 receiving an associate professor of virology at Cornell, where he oversaw a diagnostic service. multi-species in large numbers. After a few years or so, he returned to Ireland to assist with the planning and development of the Irish Horse Center before taking up a full-time research position at the University of Kentucky’s Department of Veterinary Sciences. He served as department head from 1989 to 2008, and director of the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center from 1989 to 2006.

Those years included tremendous changes in racing and breeding, above all in the frequency and range of international horse movements. The challenge today is to facilitate that movement while reducing the risk of disease transmission to an acceptable level. Timoney is confident that this goal can be achieved using the High Health, High Performance framework and, when specified, the equine Disease Free Zone concept.

“Although I am a huge advocate of facilitation of the international equine movement, my biggest concern is the risk of introducing a disease into the United States that could have catastrophic consequences,” he said. fierce,” he said. “At the end of the day, averting risk depends on human actions, or lack thereof. The biggest consequence for the equine industry in the US would be if African equine disease or Venezuelan equine encephalitis were introduced or re-entered into the country. If only one were to occur, it would result in a trade embargo on all horse exports for a minimum period of two years. We all know what this industry is worth, especially as one of the few labor-intensive industries still in existence. Sometimes one has to err on the side of conservatism. What is at stake is too great. ”

First and foremost, Timoney remains alive by a deep respect for the species that has captivated him for decades. After all, there is no special insight into the inner spirit of Purity than the relationship between physician and patient. While he has a pragmatic wariness about their unpredictability having sometimes performed an uncanny kick in his day, he marvels at their beauty, spirit, and performance potential. “The intense competitive spirit they can have is unmatched among domestic species,” he said. “Horses are such noble creatures. It is easy to see how, over the millennia, the horse has become the subject of magnificent masterpieces of art and sculpture”.

This mystery has drawn on 5 decades of diligence and inspiration from Dr. Peter J. Timoney is a profound blessing to our community, although he usually sees it differently. “I feel very lucky,” he insisted. “Both have been given the opportunity to work in a field that I have found for the last 50 years, and with an animal that has always been a source of wonder and an industry that has been so supportive over the years. ”

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