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Second shipment of equine flu vaccine due today

October 5, 2007

A horse is microchipped following vaccination.

Australia's second shipment of equine flu vaccine is due today as authorities report "encouraging progress" in the fight to contain disease.

New South Wales reported 3343 infected properties yesterday, a jump of 160 on the day before.

The spread within NSW is continuing, authorities said, but the rate of new infections was still declining and case numbers are continuing to fall, and are slightly below long-term projected numbers.

NSW also listed 346 with dangerous-contact status, and 383 were formally listed as suspect.

Over 700 vaccinations have been administered across NSW as part of a targeted vaccination programme to contain and eradicate the flu.

The vaccine is also being deployed in Queensland and Victoria, where it is being used to inoculate all horses about to participant in the lucrative spring racing carnival.

About 130,000 doses of vaccine are scheduled to arrive in Australia today, completing the total order of 150,000 vials.

The vaccination programme in NSW is continuing in target areas. Local vaccination centres in Armidale, Forbes and Parkes have received between them 1845 vials of vaccine. Armidale has commenced vaccination with Forbes and Parkes due to begin today. Nearly 300 horses in the Southern Highlands buffer zone, around Mittagong, have been vaccinated.

Horses in the Mudgee district are also to receive the vaccine to set up a buffer zone in a programme likely to take more than seven days.

Authorities have reminded horse owners they are required to report flu-like symptoms.

"While most people are doing the right thing and reporting sick horses, we are still receiving tip-offs that some horse owners are not reporting the illness," said NSW chief veterinary officer Bruce Christie.

"This is a legal responsibility of horse owners under the Exotic Diseases Act and is vital to stop any further spread of equine influenza. Failure to report could have widespread and serious implications in terms of the eradication programme."

The maximum penalty for not reporting an ill horse is $22,000 and possible jail.

Meanwhile, NSW Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald has thanked the state's 100,000-plus horse owners for their efforts.

"All horses in NSW are equally susceptible to this explosively contagious disease and every horse is equally valuable to its owner," he said. "It doesn't matter whether you own Shetland or an elite dressage horse, I understand that your horse is important to you.

"This is an unprecedented situation and over the last five weeks, hundreds of people have been working overtime to stop the spread of disease and I am fully aware of the disruption and economic loss it is causing."

Mr Macdonald said there were an estimated 350,000 horses in NSW, and 80 per cent were not associated with racing.

"Horses used for recreational purposes, including for children's ponies and competing at rodeos, is synonymous with the outback and Australia's unique rural way of life," he said.

He acknowledged the Australian Horse Industry Council and the Equestrian Federation of Australia for their representations on behalf of all horse owners, as well as his department.

"The best way of attacking this exotic disease is with a united front and eradication will benefit all horses owners, businesses and communities," he said.

"I encourage all horse owners, riders and trainers to remain focused on the ultimate goal of eradication for the future of our diverse horses industries."

In Queensland, authorities have been angered by reports of people moving horses within the red zone without permits.

A general standstill for all horses remains in place in the Red Zone - south east Queensland and the Darling Downs. Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin said it was disappointing that there were reports that some horse owners were now moving their horses without a permit.

"It seems that some people see the vaccination programme as a signal that everything is now okay and they can move their horses.

"That is wrong - we are at a critical point in the horse flu response programme and it's vital that, as much as possible, horses stay where they are," he said.

"Vaccination is important, but it is not the solution to the overall problem and now is clearly not the time to be complacent."

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