January 5, 2008


Josephine Taute, Richard Calvert, Andrea Murray, Helen Crabb and Sharyn Holmwood have taken home valuable knowledge to improve the emergency response readiness of New Zealand authorities.

New Zealand exotic disease specialists drafted into the New South Wales equine influenza response team to help contain the disease have taken home knowledge to improve the emergency response readiness of NZ authorities.

In addition, two New Zealand Government sponsored biosecurity managers have toured the NSW local control centre at Menangle and have been briefed by key equine flu decision-makers.

Richard Calvert and Andrea Murray said first-hand experience of Australia's response to EI would enable them to make recommendations on how to improve New Zealand's state of readiness for a flu outbreak and its emergency management response plans.

"The key point we have learnt is that knowing exactly where horses are is critical to controlling and eradicating equine influenza," Mr Calvert said.

The two New Zealanders studied the operations, surveillance, movement control, management and epidemiology measures conducted by the NSW flu response team.

"The scale of the operation is amazing and the focus and energy of the people working on it is impressive," Ms Murray said.

During their visit, they were briefed by three of the seven New Zealand specialists who have been playing crucial roles in NSW.

Sharyn Holmwood, Josephine Taute and Helen Crabb were busy working to control and eradicate EI from NSW since the early stages of the outbreak.

Mrs Holmwood, an equine flu surveillance officer, worked as the first point of contact for people who find their horses are sick with flu, while Mrs Taute maintained a database of information about EI.

Epidemiologist Helen Crabb is from Waikato, the New Zealand horse industry equivalent to NSW's Hunter region - where any future outbreak of EI would hit hardest.

"From the NSW experience it is apparent that EI could travel from one end of New Zealand to another in a very short time," Ms Crabb said.

"The best way New Zealand can prepare veterinarians for outbreaks of exotic diseases is to send people to work on outbreaks across the world such as England's foot and mouth and Australia's EI."

Two New Zealand Government specialists have worked at the State disease control headquarters at Orange for short periods.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), Biosecurity Exotic Disease Investigation and Response epidemiologist, Paul Bingham, said he and fellow MAF epidemiologist Matthew Stone believed equine flu had helped develop better cross-Tasman cooperation.

"A large outbreak like this doesn't come along every day. We've learned a lot about responding to an exotic disease on this scale," Mr Bingham said.