March 19, 2008

Australia's Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke has welcomed news that Australia is provisionally free of equine influenza.

"Active surveillance has not found any new infected horses since December 2007. This is what we have all been working for," Mr Burke said.

"(The) announcement means that with appropriate paperwork, horses are again free to move both within their states and interstate.

"It also means that we are one of the few countries in the world to successfully eradicate equine influenza.

"The hard work and dedication of authorities, veterinarians and the broader horse industry has brought us to this stage in the eradication effort much sooner than expected.

"Horse owners cooperated and adhered to critical biosecurity and movement restrictions, which proved to be essential in controlling the disease."

The Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases today agreed that Queensland could reclassify its last 'amber' zone to 'green' on 14 March.

Queensland and NSW 'green' zones should become 'white' on 30 June 2008, bringing both states into the same zone status as the rest of Australia.

The next step will be for Australia to secure international freedom from equine influenza status.

To satisfy World Animal Health Organization requirements, Australia will have to maintain an effective surveillance system for equine influenza until the end of 2008.

The National Management Group (NMG) overseeing the response to equine influenza has welcomed the news.

NMG expects to be able to declare the EI emergency over with the achievement of national freedom on 30 June 2008. Active surveillance in New South Wales and Queensland has found no new infected horses since 9 December in NSW and 25 December in Qld.

NMG endorsed the view that once the equine influenza emergency is declared over at the end of June, vaccination for disease control will no longer be required. Cessation of vaccination by this time, together with proposed surveillance activities, will assist in the recognition of Australia as EI free under international animal health rules.

Until June 30, horse owners may continue to access vaccine to complete the scheduled course of vaccination (third dose) where this is approved by the state chief veterinary officer. Access will be on a voluntary self-funded basis.

Some sectors of the Australian horse industry wish to implement an ongoing equine influenza vaccination program after Australia regains its disease-free status.

NMG noted this is a complex issue that has significant ramifications for all sectors of the horse industry and for other livestock industries and it is essential that those affected have a good understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of such a course of action.

The Australian, state and territory governments and other stakeholders will give this careful consideration before any final decision is made.

The World Animal Health Organization (OIE) requires that Australia maintains an effective surveillance system for equine influenza. Disease-free status will be confirmed if no cases of the disease are found for 12 months. Measures to maintain effective disease surveillance are being considered.

If no more cases are seen, Australia can be officially recognised as EI-free by the OIE as of 25 December 2008.

NMG agreed to NSW and Queensland applications to reclassify zones. This includes the NSW southern amber zone to white, red/amber to green/white, and purple to green; and in Queensland, amber to white and red to amber.

The Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases recently agreed to reclassify the last amber zone in Queensland to green on 14 March 2008. Queensland and NSW green zones should transition to white on 30 June 2008, bringing both states into the same zone status as the rest of Australia.

NMG is comprised of the Chief Executive Officers of the Commonwealth and state/territory departments of agriculture/primary industries across Australia and also the heads of the peak bodies representing the horse industry. It is chaired by the Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Dr Conall O'Connell.