October 10, 2007

Australia has its 150,000 doses of vaccine and rolling them out across affected states is the main priority in the fight against equine influenza.

"Already, 12,700 horses have been vaccinated," said Queensland Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin.

"Vaccination ... commenced on September 29, 2007 and will continue to be rolled out across the buffer zone over the next two weeks," he said.

"And ... the Queensland Government has secured enough vaccine to protect an extra 17,000 horses in the high-value, high performance breeding industry.

"The extra vaccine is in addition to that already committed to the thoroughbred and harness racing industries."

In New South Wales, officials say the vaccination programme is the highest priority.

"We are currently limited by a shortage of veterinarians and would welcome further assistance," a spokesman said.

NSW has nine vaccination centres either operational or close to opening, including Mittagong, Gloucester, Dubbo, Armidale, Forbes/Parkes, Wellington, Mudgee and Barmedman.

To date, 2184 horses have been vaccinated.

A vaccination centre has also been set up at Temora to protect horses in a buffer zone around Barmedman, where a recent outbreak was detected in the formerly flu-free green zone.

The state has received an allocation from the Federal Minister of vaccine sufficient to treat 44,000 horses (88,000 doses).

"When the number of vaccine doses required to protect the buffer areas has been finalised, there will be vaccine available to protect individual horses as yet uninfected in the red or purple zones," a spokesman said.

"We need to limit the ongoing new infections because these offer the risk of spread by human movement through our buffer zones."

Authorities stress that the vaccine does not prevent horses from catching the disease. However, it does greatly reduce the amount of virus they excrete, thereby reducing the risk of spread.

Queenland's Tim Mulherin said the eradication strategy is based on a pre-existing, planned national response for this disease, combining movement restrictions, strategic vaccination, buffer zones and good biosecurity practices.

Australian Veterinary Association president Dr Diane Sheehan has backed the strategy used in Queensland.

"The AVA fully supports the Queensland DPI in following AUSVETPLAN, which is the coordinated national response to minimising the harm caused by the virus.

"Vaccination was never going to be a cure-all for this crisis," she said, "and it is entirely understandable that some members of the public are anxious about it. However, we are confident that the strategies currently being followed are consistent with the best possible advice available from experts.

"There is still much to be done, and I would encourage members of the public to have faith in Queensland authorities who are doing their best to bring this crisis to a close."

In NSW, the number of infected properties stand at 3867, with 387 labelled "dangerous contact" and 443 "suspect".

"The number of cases to date is staying within the 'optimistic' projection for the disease outbreak," a spokesman said. "Epidemiologists predicted more than two weeks ago that there would be about 4000 infected properties."

Cases outside containment lines are due to transfer via human movements. "This is a highly infectious disease and seems to take any possible opportunity to infect horses. Be particularly careful to wash hands for two minutes and change to clean clothes when going to or from properties.

"If possible do not allow any visitors near your horses and don't go near anyone else's."

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