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Equine flu lockdown begins to turn tide

August 29, 2007

Equine flu Q & A

Signs are emerging that the massive operation in Australia to contain an outbreak of equine flu, including a nationwide ban on horse movements, is starting to turn the tide.

Authorities have traced the spread of the infection and have formally quarantined 615 horses, mostly in New South Wales.

The exact locations of the restricted areas for equine influenza in NSW are:

• The Local Government Areas in north west Sydney administered by councils at Baulkham Hills, Blacktown, Fairfield, Gosford, Hawkesbury, Holroyd, Penrith and Wyong.

• The Local Government Areas around Centennial Park including Sydney, Woollahra, Randwick, Waverly, Botany Bay, Leichhardt, Marrickville, and the eastern parts of Canterbury, Ashfield, Rockdale and Canada Bay.

• within 10km radius of Mount Hunter.

• within 10km radius of Parkes Showground.

• within 10km radius of Broughton Village (via Berry).

• within 10km radius of Moonbi.

There have also been confirmed outbreaks at Warwick and Minden in Queensland.

Maps and location information can be found at or you can call the hotline on 1800 675 888.

More than 80 properties are affected in New South Wales and Queensland.

New South Wales Chief Veterinary Officer Bruce Christie said stamping out the disease can be achieved only by isolating affected animals and implementing strong movement controls, especially close to affected properties.

"The virus can be carried on vehicles and equipment," he said.

"There are now six key Restricted Areas in NSW - three around the Sydney area and others near Parkes in the Central West, Berry (near Nowra) on the south coast, and Moonbi (near Tamworth) in the north west," he said.

"I appeal to all horse owners as well as workers in the industry to do the right thing and abide by these rules in difficult times."

Authorities are confident that the movement ban and quarantine measures will contain the infection. However, it was crucial that Australian horse owners complied with state and federal directives.

Australia's nationwide ban on horse movements will expire at 1pm on Friday (Eastern Standard Time). The bans in place in New South Wales and Queensland are in place until Monday, but seem certain to be extended, possibly for a fortnight or more. They will reassessed each week.

New South Wales' Minister of Primary Industries Ian Macdonald says at said at least 58 horses are confirmed with the infectious respiratory disease, with another 615 horses in formal quarantine.

Efforts were under way to provide support for those effectively stranded while caring for quarantined animals.

"While much of our energy is focused on the containment of any further spread of equine influenza" he said, "we are also considering the needs of those having to remain at locations away from their homes and stables due to movement restrictions.

"We will help meet the costs associated with providing feed and any emergency veterinary services to horses affected by movement restrictions," he said.

"Our emergency management support staff will assist owners who wish or need to stay in the same areas as their horses."

The RSPCA is also providing help in caring for horses involved in the lockdown.

"Owners who are staying on site may decontaminate then leave the area to purchase food and other necessities."

He urged horse owners to abide by the ban on horse movements while investigators determined the extent of the disease, saying there remained a need for vigilance.

"Horses are prohibited from travelling anywhere in New South Wales, and all race meetings have been cancelled, as have all known sales, shows, and other events, within the state," he said.

"The main message for horse owners is to not move your horse and to report any flu-like symptoms in your horse to the hotline.

"It is also important to remember that people can spread the disease," he said.

Federal Minister for Agriculture Peter McGauran said it was important people realised the movement ban applied to all horses donkey and mules, and not just racehorses.

"In effect, it means horses should not be leaving their property, not even when being ridden or led.

"The best chance we have of containing this disease is for all horse owners to take responsibility for keeping their horses away from other horses, and preventing transmission through contaminated clothing or equipment.

"Cancel all non-essential visitors to your property, including farriers and other service people who may have contact with other horses, until the standstill is lifted."

In other developments in the last 24 hours:

Meanwhile, there are growing calls for an inquiry into the circumstances which allowed the virus to spread. Mr McGauran says the strain of equine flu is the same or similar to that first identified in a horse from Japan being held at the Eastern Creek facility.

NSW officials, who have been tracing the path of the virus, suspect it came out of Eastern Creek Quarantine Station and infected a horse that went to a one-day-event at Maitland on August 18. Other horses appear to have been infected there, and the disease was carried to many sites in NSW as horses returned home. It was also carried to Queensland.

Two horses at the one-day event returned to Centennial Park stables, where all but a handful of the more than 160 horses at that facility had contracted the disease within days.

It is possible that racing in New South Wales could remain shut down for a month or more, even though no racehorses have tested positive for the disease so far.

However, it is possible that racing at some NSW tracks could resume earlier, but involve only horses based at the courses in questions.

Training resumed yesterday morning at Randwick after tests on four horses proved negative.

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'Landys said the industry faced a major problem, with some industry players facing the prospect of no income for weeks.

"The longer it goes, the longer people won't be earning any income," he said, estimating the livelihoods of 50,000 people had been affected.

"We've got to start looking at contingency plans."

The equine flu outbreak could not have come at a worse time for thoroughbred breeding, with 25 international shuttle stallions locked up in quarantine facilities, affecting the breeding plans of thousands of broodmares.

New Zealand borders remain closed to horses from Australia, and passengers arriving from across the Tasman are being questioned about their contact with horses.



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