Evaluating the Benefits of Equiplas: An Interview with Dr Jaco Joubert, BVSc

With its efficacy in treating so many different indications, it can be hard to overstate the role Equiplas plays in equine practices across Australia. We sat down with Dr. Jaco Joubert to learn about how he incorporates Equiplas into his practice as well as his thoughts on the role equine plasma has played in the wider veterinary field. 

(The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.) 

How did you first get acquainted with Plasvacc?

I suppose just through working in equine practice and knowing of the availability of Equiplas. In Australia, Equiplas is the only commercially available plasma for horses and I worked at a large equine practice so we used a fair bit of it.

How many patients would you treat in a given year?

In the previous practice I was at, it was a fair bit more, but now I run a smaller practice, though we still treat probably 30 to 40 patients a year. Mainly foals suffering from Failure of Passive Transfer [FPT] or other birthing complications.

How have you incorporated Equiplas into your practice? Is it part of a standard of care or is it used only on a case-by-case basis?

It’s mostly case-by-case, but some of our breeders prefer each foal to get a bag of Equiplas, the vast majority of our other owners, we do an IgG test for FPT, and if the foal either fails or the test indicates a Partial Failure of Passive Transfer or borderline result, then we’ll recommend to administer Equiplas.

I’d say one of the big determining factors is probably cost of the animal and certainly if breeders are breeding more expensive animals—especially if they’ve gone through things like embryo transfers and artificial insemination that generally cost a bit they prefer to give the foal every chance at survival.

In other scenarios, many just do only as needed, I suppose, because of financial constraints.

What Equiplas products do you use personally in your practice?

I prefer to use Equiplas R because we serve a Rhodococcus equi endemic area, so I tend to use the Equiplas R in that it will help impart the foal with the immunity for that.

And we will use the occasional Equiplas E treatment as well for horses with colic or foals with septicemia joint infections.

What would you say, in your opinion, the value proposition is for using the Equiplas line of products?

Definitely, I would say every foal should be getting it, especially if their immunoglobulin levels are close to the pass mark, which is 800 milligrams per deciliter. But even on top of that, my recommendation would be for every foal to get a bag just because it is hyperimmunised. So if the dam wasn’t properly immunised in pregnancy and leading up to pregnancy, getting a bag of Equiplas will certainly give them the immunity they need until they can develop their own immunity or get vaccinated and develop immunity via the vaccination.

If you were to go the other direction, and always just test beforehand, rather than give a bag of Equiplas right off the bat, does that always make sense from a cost and time perspective? Is there still the potential for the foal to not receive full immunity?

If the colostrum is good and the foal has passed its immunoglobulin levels, I would imagine its immunity should be relatively acceptable, provided that the dam has good immunity. That said, although she might be producing a colostrum high in proteins and immunoglobulins, she might still not have immunity to a vast majority of things—she may have never had a tetanus vaccine—and then the foal is born technically not immune, able to defend against tetanus.

That’s sort of the disadvantage of test-and-treat versus a blanket administration, with Equiplas, every foal is guaranteed a thorough immunity to start with.

We’re in southeast Queensland, but we don’t necessarily have the most expensive studs around us. Certainly there’s other areas in Australia and in this area as well, where there’s boutique studs, you know, thoroughbreds that are worth hundreds of thousands. Foals from that kind of stock definitely should be getting a bag at birth regardless of immunoglobulin status, because giving every edge on a $100,000 investment is definitely worth it.

Do you have any anecdotes or specific cases where Equiplas has played a unique, important or interesting role?

Hmm, well my mind jumps to neonatal isoerythrolysis, that’s where the mare has developed an antibody to the foal and causes the foal’s red blood cells to get ruptured. So basically the foal ends up very anemic and yeah, in those cases, basically, if you don’t give them plasma, they go pretty quick.

And then certainly I’ve had other cases where you have a pretty sick foal, just a like a dummy foal [a foal suffering from hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy], just sort of immunocompromised and not really thriving, and getting dehydrated and flat. I’ve certainly given them plasma and, yeah, 10 minutes after administration and they’re up and drinking. So that’s always impressive when you get those sort of immediate results.

How would you state the importance of having a registered, commercially available source of plasma in your practice?

Very important! If you didn’t have that you basically wouldn’t know if the plasma administered has antibodies against the blood type that you’re using. You also wouldn’t know if there’s diseases in there like infectious anemia, as well as the fact that the donor could have other sort of infections going on. It could be ill itself and then you basically transfuse those into another horse if you don’t have a commercially available product with an extremely high level of quality control every step of the production process.

Without it being registered you just wouldn’t know if it’s been filtered and the plasma’s been produced properly.

Do you see equine plasma treatments as one of the more important technical innovations in equine veterinary care? How do see it figuring into the veterinary medicine canon, so to speak?

In neonatology, 100%, yes. I think that plasma is right up there among the most important. Especially in in instances foals born with placentitis, foals born dummies, so they’re short on oxygen when they’re born, foals that just don’t thrive, foal diarrhea, those foals that get an umbilical infection that could then lead to a joint infection…the list goes on, including insurance that the foal has reached proper immunity. So yes, in neonatology it’s extremely important, it’s a mainstay of treatment.

In more adult horses, there’s definitely a bigger availability to use it. I think there’s a lot of larger practices as well as clients who just aren’t aware of all the benefits of it [equine plasma]. And certainly it doesn’t play as much a part in the care of adult horses as it could—and should—but definitely in foal health in and foal neonatology, it’s a very important treatment.

If you have questions about the full range of use cases for Equiplas and how to better incorporate Equiplas into your practice, Dr. Joubert and the Plasvacc technical support team is more than happy to answer them here.