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Equine flu in widespread locations - NSW officials

August 27, 2007

Equine flu Q & A

Equine flu is cutting a swathe through New South Wales.

The state's horses, with no resistance to the disease, are coming down with the highly contagious respiratory disease in ever-increasing numbers.

NSW's Department of Primary Industries says equine influenza is being detected at widespread locations across the state.

Department officials are putting the spread down to the movement of horses, people and equipment before the movement ban was imposed three days ago.

"In view of this," the department said in a statement, "all veterinarians, farriers, equine dentists and other paraveterinarians are advised to keep all visits to horse establishments to an absolute minimum, for emergencies only, and particularly to avoid sequential visits on the same day.

"Only essential and emergency visits should be undertaken for the next ten days, while the true extent of the disease is established."

The potential impact of the disease is clear from developments at Sydney's Centennial Parklands Equestrian Centre, where, at last report, all but four of the 165 horses at the centre had the disease.

Containment of the disease is looking increasingly difficult by the hour. Racing in Australia is likely to suffer losses in the many millions of dollars. An outbreak in Japan 35 years ago saw a halt to racing in that country for nine weeks, while a South African outbreak in the 80s saw a 12-week shutdown.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's borders remain locked down to Australian horses, and an estimated 100 horses which arrived in this country from Australia since August 1 are being traced and tested for the virus. All horses which have been in contact with them will also be tracked.

However, with the rapid nature of its spread, it would seem likely that any arrival of the disease in New Zealand would have been signalled by now.

Biosecurity staff are questioning people arriving from Australia to determine if they have had any contact with horses.

New Zealand remains the only nation in the world with a major equine population to be free of the disease.

Earlier, New South Wales' Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said: "More of the full picture is being revealed ... and I regret to inform you that it is grim."

"Surveillance experts based at State Disease Control Headquarters have traced suspect horses to Parkes, Moonbi (near Tamworth), Broughton Vale (near Berry), Wilberforce, Cattai, and Wyong. Samples taken by veterinarians from these horses have tested positive for Influenza A.

"This is disastrous news for the state's horse industries, not just racing," he continued.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, talking on TV One's Breakfast show, said: "Let's hope in Australia they can get on top of this very quickly. It is a very big issue."

While nearly all horses recover, horses in Australia and New Zealand have no resistance to the infection, and large numbers will fall victim should it spread unchecked.

Veterinarians report that while horses recover from the flu, there tends to be a higher rate of secondary problems such as pneumonia and heart problems than with other respiratory infections.

In Australia, horse movements have been banned and about 25 international stallions remain locked in quarantine facilities, throwing the breeding plans of thousands of top thoroughbred broodmares into disarray.

 

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