Australia’s horse import rules under review in fight against glanders

The acute form of glancers results in coughing, fever, and the release of an infectious nasal discharge, followed by septicaemia and death within days.
Image by JackieLou DL

A global increase in glanders cases and the growing international trade in horses has prompted Australian officials to review the country’s existing horse and horse semen import conditions.

In accordance with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Code, the review proposes to standardise Australia’s import conditions for horses and horse semen, while not significantly altering the current import conditions.

Glanders is an infectious disease that is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia mallei. Glanders is primarily a disease affecting horses, but it also affects donkeys and mules and can be naturally contracted by goats, dogs, and cats.

Signs of glanders include the formation of nodular lesions in the lungs and ulceration of the mucous membranes in the upper respiratory tract. The acute form results in coughing, fever, and the release of an infectious nasal discharge, followed by septicaemia and death within days. In the chronic form, nasal and subcutaneous nodules develop, eventually ulcerating; death can occur within months, while survivors act as carriers.

Once prevalent worldwide, glanders has been eradicated from many areas of the world including Canada, Western Europe and the United States. However, the disease persists in many parts of Asia, North Africa, South America and the Middle East.

Dr Jill Millan, of Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, said the changes would ensure continuity of trade whilst managing the biosecurity risks sufficiently to meet Australia’s appropriate level of protection.

Currently, horses must reside in a glanders-free country for 180 days before export to Australia. Countries must be free from glanders for at least three years in order to export horses to Australia or provide sufficient evidence of country freedom in accordance with the OIE Code.

“The review considers current scientific information, international standards developed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and relevant import policies adopted by other countries.”

A draft report has been produced, and the department is inviting feedback via an online form. Submissions close on February 18.

“We are particularly interested in comments about the appropriateness of these measures and any other measures that would provide equivalent risk management outcomes,” Millan said.

“We will carefully consider all submissions and where appropriate make changes before finalising the review.”

Glanders has previously been reported in two countries approved to export horses to Australia. The United Arab Emirates reported a case of glanders in 2004 and Germany reported one case in 2006 and one in 2014. In the UAE case, the disease was identified in an imported horse during post-import quarantine and the horse did not enter the general horse population.

In the 2014 German case, the horse was in the general horse population when it tested positive for glanders during routine pre-export screening for another country. This led to Australia suspending the import of live horses and their semen from Germany until the occurrence was investigated and freedom from disease demonstrated. The incident was resolved and the department now recognises Germany as glanders-free.

There has been one reported occurrence of glanders in Australia, in 1891, involving circus horses imported from the United States into a quarantine facility in Sydney. All infected horses and their contacts were euthanised, and the remaining horses were exported back to the US.

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