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Spread of equine flu in check, Australia hunkers down

August 30, 2007

Equine flu Q & A

The torrent of equine flu cases has turned to a trickle as Australia hunkers down for the long haul to eliminate the highly contagious respiratory disease from its shores.

Horse owners are also settling in to see out the quarantine period, with authorities setting up a campsite classroom at one location for 25 children, and moving to provide temporary accommodation to make life more comfortable.


Restricted areas:

There are currently 11 restricted areas in New South Wales:
• Moonbi (Gill Street)
• Moonbi (Woonooka Road)
• Aberdeen (Upper Hunter)
• Anambah (near Maitland)
• Moree
• Muswellbrook
• Centennial Park and Redfern
• Sydney Metropolitan
• Broughton Village (near Berry)
• Parkes Showground
• Mount Hunter


New South Wales confirmed there were 19 flu-affected properties in the state, and more were expected to be found. Testing to date has shown 90 definitely have the disease, with more cases expected.

Queensland, the other state affected by the outbreak, reports two confirmed cases in the semi-rural Brisbane suburb of Brookfield, which have been linked back to an event in Warwick last weekend, where 250 horses remain under lockdown. Twelve horses had left the event for their Queensland homes before the lockdown was imposed, and authorities are monitoring the properties to which they returned.

The path of the infection, apparently from the Eastern Creek quarantine facility west of Sydney, has been traced effectively by authorities. Officials believe the disease was somehow carried from Eastern Creek - where a Japanese stallion had tested positive to the disease - to a one-day-event at Maitland, in NSW's Hunter Valley, and then into the wider community as horses returned to their homes.

It is thought the disease was carried inter-state to the event at Morgan Park, in Warwick, by a horsefloat that had travelled from the Maitland event.

Authorities believe most of the 250 horses affected by the Warwick lockdown will eventually contract the disease. About 200 people are staying with their horses at the venue, many sleeping in cars and floats while awaiting the arrival of better accommodation. Education Queensland yesterday set up a campsite classroom for the 25 children affected.

The lockdown in all restricted areas, including Morgan Park, is likely to last a month, perhaps longer.

In both states, the news is encouraging.

None of the new cases has occurred outside restricted areas, five of which were added in NSW yesterday, to take the total to 11.

"The good news is none of the new infections have come out-of-the-blue," said NSW deputy chief veterinary officer, Ian Roth.

"Our tracing has accounted for 100 per cent of these infected properties," he said. "With about 400,000 horses across NSW, some worth millions of dollars, we are working hard to eliminate this disease.

"The short-term pain is worth the long-term gain for the animals, the economy and the recreation, racing and harness sectors of the horse industry if equine influenza can be eradicated."

Horse movements in Australia are banned until 1pm Friday (Eastern Standard Time), but are in place indefinitely in New South Wales and Queensland.

NSW's Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said all Australians needed to work together until the crisis was over.

"A total of 762 horses are now in quarantine on affected properties throughout the state. Restricted areas are in place in a 10km radius around known infected properties.

"This just isn't about the horse industry, it's affecting towns from one end of the state to another.

"We need the community to support those affected by the ban on horse movements and recognise the human face of this situation. The racing industry supports 50,000 jobs in NSW alone."

Mr Macdonald said that at known infected properties, such as the Parkes showground and Moonbi sports ground, people were staying with their horses, and appeals had gone out for caravans to make their stays more comfortable. State officials were doing were they could to help.

"We are keeping bans on the movement of horses indefinitely and are working with the RSPCA to help animals stranded at various locations through the provision of feed, veterinary care, and assisting with accommodation for owners," he said.

He urged anyone with contact with any horses to exercise hygiene precautions, and stressed the importance of the movement ban in containing the disease.

"People must be aware the disease can be spread by people moving in and out of showgrounds and around properties."

The Equestrian Federation of Australia's National Young Rider Co-ordinator for Dressage, Jenny Carroll, has backed the Minister's concerns over the need for vigilance.

"Irrespective of whether you are in a restricted area, all horse people have to be aware that they could potentially transmit the virus," Ms Carroll said. "I'm very concerned that people who don't have a sick horse might think the warnings don't apply to them and therefore not taking the necessary precautions.

"It's essential to change your clothes and boots before you visit any veterinary clinic, saddlery, feed merchant or other equine facility to help prevent the spread of this disease. That applies to school students, college and university students, who may be feeding or handling their horses on their way to classes.

"While you may not have a horse that's sick, there could be sick horses nearby which could easily spread the disease.

"The best way we can help the efforts to eliminate equine influenza is to take precautions and act responsibly during this high-risk period."

In other developments in the last 24 hours:

The Australian Minister for Agriculture, Peter McGauran, has issued his own appeal to people to adhere to movement bans and restrictions.

"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. All equine gatherings, including pony and riding clubs, trail rides, competitions and shows should also be postponed until after the standstill."

 

 

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