Rio de Janeiro: Rio de Janeiro began holding equestrian test events Thursday ahead of the 2016 Olympics despite concerns over an outbreak of the deadly, highly contagious horse disease glanders at nearby stables.
Officials pressed ahead with the test events despite a statement from Brazil`s agriculture ministry saying at least one horse diagnosed with glanders had spent several months at the army equestrian complex that will host the Olympic riding events.
The horse has been killed to stop the disease from spreading.
"The International Federation for Equestrian Sports approved the test events here. Its position is that they are completely safe," said Rio Olympic committee president Carlos Arthur Nuzman.
Everyone attending Thursday`s events was required to wash their hands with antiseptic gel and dip their feet in buckets of disinfectant to prevent the spread of glanders, a rare bacterial disease that can also infect humans.
Riders were not using their valuable Olympic horses, which can cost upwards of $100,000 and are not typically ensured for glanders.
Instead, they used 20 Brazilian horses that were off limits from contact with anyone but the athletes and their support teams.
"We`re being cautious. The best way to avoid the disease is not to have horses here. We`re installing a health cordon and for the past six months we have not had (Olympic) horses here," said the head of veterinary services for the Rio Olympics, Juliana Freitas.
The equestrian complex is located in Deodoro, about an hour`s drive from central Rio.
The stables where the infected horse were kept are just a few hundred meters (yards) from the Olympic site.
Glanders causes ulcers in the respiratory tract and spreads through cuts, sneezing or contaminated food and equipment.
A total of 17 infected horses from around Brazil are currently in quarantine in Sao Paulo state and will also be killed to stop the outbreak, the agriculture ministry said.
A German lab has been commissioned to carry out tests on samples taken from 584 other horses that were also stabled at the army complex in Deodoro.
But the test results will only come back in October.
The head of the World Organisation for Animal Health, Bernard Vallat, said the body was awaiting the test results but "does not believe there is any particular risk for the horses" taking part in the Olympic test events, a warm-up to gauge the city`s readiness a year out from the Games.