October 17, 2007

The number of horses infected by equine influenza in New South Wales stands at 38,459, according to New South Wales Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald.

The number of infected properties stands are 4622.

The minister urged horse owners to rally to beat the disease, saying ignorance or indifference about biosecurity by some individuals is increasing the impact of the disease on every horse owner.

"To stop these figures growing, all horse owners and individuals involved in our horse industries must be 100 per cent committed to proper biosecurity.

"This means adopting simple measures such as hand washing and changing clothes after contact with horses or horse equipment.

Horse owners must use decontamination procedures before leaving infected properties otherwise they risk infecting clean properties, he said.

"Seven weeks since the outbreak of EI, it's now more important than ever to work together in a cohesive approach to contain and eradicate this disease from one end of NSW to the other.

"The fact that horse flu has unexpectedly popped up in new locations shows that some people have been in contact with infected horses, then moved to EI free areas without following disinfection guidelines," he said.

"Simple measures would help bring EI under control."

People who don't abide by mandatory decontamination procedures face a fine of up to $A22,000 or up to six months imprisonment.

Mr Macdonald praised horse owners around Mudgee, whose commitment to biosecurity has allowed the buffer zone around a seat of infection to be dropped to 2km from 10km. "Instead of needing to vaccinate 2840 animals in the old buffer area, we now have to vaccinate only 300."

In Queensland, a working party of performance and pleasure horse industry representatives has been formed to work with the state government to help co-ordinate efforts in the campaign to control equine flu.

The committee includes representatives from areas as diverse as pony clubs, horse exporters and saddle retailers. The Queensland Horse Council is also represented.

Queensland Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin said the group would help get key information about biosecurity measures and assistance programmes to this group of stakeholders and respond to their concerns.

"This working party is a major step forward in enabling the Government to work with a wide range of industries affected by equine influenza," he said.

"This group will ensure that there is effective two-way communication.

Many of the people which this group represents do not have computers to enable them access information and updates about equine flu on the internet. "This has been identified as a gap and we are addressing it."

Mr Mulherin said it was vital that Queenslanders continued to use proper biosecurity practices.

"We have contained this highly contagious virus in the red zone and we are still confident of keeping it contained, so that it will burn itself out," he said. "There continues to be a strong commitment nationally and in Queensland to eradicating this disease."

The commitment to eradication is based on the fact that, although the current response is costly, it would be far more damaging and costly having to deal with re-occurrences of the disease on an ongoing basis.

He said the vaccination programme is proceeding on schedule with horses in the buffer zone receiving top priority, along with high risk, and high value horses in the red zone.

Queensland has 1220 infected properties, across a total area of 2766 sq km in the state's south-east.