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Vaccine approved for equine flu buffer zones

September 18, 2007

Australia has approved the use of equine flu vaccine to create buffer zones, as latest figures show 1063 infected properties - home to nearly 10,000 horses.

New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said about 10,000 shots of horse flu vaccine will be imported for use in the new special equine influenza buffer zones.

"The vaccine represents the next phase in the campaign," he said, warning that the vaccine must not be viewed as some kind of silver bullet.

"Vaccine will be imported once the Federal Government's office of the Gene Technology Regulator signs off on this initiative. I have already written to them on this important matter.

"There is national agreement that we must use the vaccine strategically and with precision to stay one step ahead of the disease with the ultimate aim of eradication.

"I want to make it absolutely clear from the start that the vaccine will NOT be made available to each and every horse owner in NSW - it just won't work that way.

"Exhaustive tracing, surveillance and mapping efforts mean we now have a good handle on where the disease is. This knowledge makes vaccine use in buffer zones the best option to contain and eradicate. Using vaccine earlier in the campaign, without the information we have now, would have been flying blind.

"However, all involved in this crisis must not see vaccine as the silver bullet, or the answer to all the problems thrown up by the equine flu outbreak," he said.

"Biosecurity, hygiene and movement restrictions remain vitally important to our effort to contain this disease. We also need to determine just how this got into NSW in the first place."

Macdonald said vaccine use in NSW involves:

To ensure the most successful use of vaccine, the Department of Primary Industries would define four risk zones across NSW.

"The zones are currently being defined and will be announced later in the week," he said. "The standstill on all horse movements remains."

Macdonald said there was some good news for the hard-pressed racing industry with crowds to be allowed trackside at Rosehill this weekend for the first time since the bans on horse movement were put in place almost a month ago.

"Rosehill management is expecting about 7000 people to attend," he said. "Strict biosecurity measures will be in place at Rosehill but it will be good to see people back trackside in NSW for the first time."

The 1063 infected properties across NSW are home to 9763 horses. There are 359 premises officially declared "dangerous contact properties", which are home 2720 horses. Authorities have also declared 267 suspect properties with 1623 horses.

The disease front now extends from the Camden area in the south, to Raymond Terrace near Maitland, and up the Hunter Valley to Narrabri and Moree.

Meanwhile, movement restrictions remain in place, with authorities urging horse professionals such as farriers and equine dentists to continue strict biosecurity measures when working with horses.

"Relatively simple prevention techniques like decontamination are the most effective and least expensive means of disease control," said NSW deputy chief veterinary office Ian Roth. "Everybody in contact with horses, from owners and trainers, to vets and strappers, needs to implement these measures and adhere to them, to ensure they don't spread horse flu.

"The best option is to minimise contact with horses until the threat of horse flu has passed and only have contact when absolutely essential. It is also important to keep records so that if necessary horses and owners can be traced.

"Wearing disposable or removable clothing such as overalls and showering after returning straight home can make decontamination easier, provided clothes are packed into an airtight bag until laundering."

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