January 16, 2008

Just 149 properties remain to be cleared of equine flu in New South Wales as months of hard work spells the death knell for Australia's flu outbreak.

While the full cost of the outbreak has yet to be calculated - and an inquiry is continuing into its cause - there is little doubt that the highly contagious infection is a spent force in the worst-affected state in Australia.

It has been 41 days since the last known infection.

At its height, NSW had 5895 infected properties, with 225 a day being added to the grim tally.

Even with 149 infected properties, the flu is no longer considered active on any of them.

In total, the state had 6820 properties that were known to be infected.

Some 25 centres were established across the state to handle vaccination and disease control initiatives. About 50,000 horses have been vaccinated, most of them twice.

The eradication effort involved almost 400 people at its peak, with 1.3 terabytes of electronic data being been entered into computers - equating to about 1.5 million pages of information.

Nearly 20,000 horse properties were mapped and entered into the NSW Department of Primary Industries disease management database.

More than 80,000 laboratory tests have been run, 9513 movement permits issued and 442 events registered with the department. Some 36,655 Travelling Horse Statements have been issued.

Members of the public made more than 43,000 calls to the flu hotline and the equine flu website was viewed 460,000 times.

Current efforts are focusing on the purple zone around Sydney in case hitherto undiscovered pockets of the disease remain.

Owners of horses in the zone whose horses had not contracted EI are being urged to contact their vet if they have not yet been vaccinated.

NSW Chief Veterinary Officer Bruce Christie said the first round of purple zone vaccinations was nearing completion, with firm evidence the strategies being used to control and stamp out the disease were succeeding.

"Two rounds of vaccine are crucial to building up immunity in uninfected horses," Mr Christie said.

"First round vaccinations in the purple zone are scheduled to finish on 3 February, with the second round expected to be completed at the end of February. Applications for vaccination must be lodged by 21 January.

"After 4 February only second round vaccinations and special cases will be eligible for vaccination under this programme."

Mr Christie said DPI now required all horse movements in the purple zone to have a Travelling Horse Statement (THS).

From February 4, only horses that have been vaccinated or have documents to show they have recovered from EI will be permitted to move in the purple zone.

"So we are urging horse owners in the purple zone to contact their vet if their horses have not had EI and are still not vaccinated," Mr Christie said.

Application forms for vaccination are on the NSW DPI website.

"It's more important than ever that we find any undetected pockets of EI," he said.

"The situation remains very encouraging with no new cases of EI identified since 20 December. However, we still have a long way to go before we can be sure horse flu is completely eradicated.

"Even without new outbreaks it will take time to ensure there is no risk of further virus spread. Once vaccinations have been completed surveillance will continue to ensure EI does not reoccur."