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Exotic disease specialist at equine flu frontline

October 6, 2007

Rod Stephenson and Dixie. Dixie has remained clear of equine influenza, thanks to strict decontamination procedures Rod has set up at home.

When Anstead vet Rod Stephenson became a member of an elite group of exotic disease specialists, he never expected to be working so close to home.

Dr Stephenson is one of the many private sector and government vets, scientists, field staff and communication officers working on the equine influenza outbreak.

Based at the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries Equine Influenza Community Resource Centre at Brookfield, Dr Stephenson has been at the front line since August 28, examining horses and providing advice to horse owners from Rosewood to Redcliffe.

"When I did my training, I expected to be called up to a disease outbreak overseas, but not in Australia," he said.

"But it's very personally rewarding as a vet, horse owner and rider to be part of the solution in this problem."

The 55-year-old former pony club rider, horse trainer, polocrosse competitor and lifetime equestrian is one of a specially trained group of vets who form the Australian Veterinary Reserve.

Members are available for call-up internationally, similar to the military reserve, when required.

To gain membership, Dr Stephenson has undergone specialist training in disease control, tracking and surveillance.

A horse lover since his boyhood in Cunnamulla, Dr Stephenson still owns and occasionally rides 27-year-old Dixie, who remains healthy despite her owner's continual contact with infected horses.

"We have set up a decontamination unit at home and it's proof that careful decontamination works," he said.

"After direct contact horse-to-horse, people are the biggest risk of spreading the disease and that's why it's so important for horse owners to be applying decontamination procedures whether or not their horses are infected.

"A horse can be sick, and shedding live virus into its environment and all over its owner or handler, for five days before it shows any symptoms.

"Horse owners and their families could be inadvertently carrying live virus around and potentially infecting other animals without realising it. That's why we're urging all horse owners to still do the right thing and use decontamination procedures."



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