January 8, 2008

Are there fresh cases of equine influenza in New South Wales? If so, authorities fighting the outbreak are struggling to find them.

"The current situation in NSW is very encouraging," the state's Department of Primary Industries said in its most recent update.

"The disease situation in New South Wales has continued to improve. This will result in some substantial changes in zoning and movement conditions."

A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday to discuss zone changes and set target dates for the movement of most of NSW to EI-free status.

The last new infections were at Wallarah and Oakdale, in the purple zone on Christmas eve. "Laboratory tests on both of these indicate that these infections were both about three weeks old."

The most recent results by zone paint what was described as a very encouraging picture:

  • Purple zone - Tamworth division - last case on 5 December.
  • Purple zone - Upper Hunter division - last case 14 November
  • Purple zone - Lower Hunter division - last case 7 December
  • Purple zone - Central Coast division - last case 24 December
  • Purple zone - Sydney North division - last case more than 2 months ago
  • Purple zone - Sydney South division - last case 22 December (Note: testing indicates this was also not a recent infection - probably three weeks earlier)
  • Red zone - Grenfell area - last case 12 December
  • Red zone - all other areas - last case more than six weeks ago

The spokesman continued: "Encouraging as this situation is, we have to prove to ourselves, and to the rest of Australia, that there is little or no active EI infection in NSW.

"If there are pockets of infection that have not been reported or identified, we need to know now."

The next step in the eradication strategy will be the progressive freeing up of amber, red and purple zones.

Movement requirements for the different zones are likely to change, and the conditions for each zone will be different.

"The key issue is being able to trace horse movements, and get accurate information on the number and type of movements that are being made.

"This is the reason behind the introduction of a Travelling Horse Statement (THS) and registration of events in the Purple zone from 14 January. Green and Amber zones already have a tracing system that enables us to keep track of horse movements in the worst case scenario of a new outbreak."

It is likely that any movement of a horse within the purple zone after February 1 will require not only a THS but also a Horse Health Certificate.

This is expected to be only a short-term requirement that will hopefully allow the purple zone to be eliminated, possibly in time for the Royal Easter Show.

"There will be some situations where movements of horses will be more complicated than in the past few months, but we stress that this is an essential step on the road to recovery from EI."

The exact details of the zone changes will be discussed at a national meeting this Wednesday. By early next week, we hope to be able to give more specific criteria and target dates for the movement of most of NSW to freedom from EI.