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Eradication of equine flu possible by June

October 24, 2007

Australia could be free of equine flu by June 30 if biosecurity standards remain high, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries says.

"Scenario analysis indicates that the outbreak is running below the mid-range prediction curve, and well below the worst case curve," the department said in its daily update.

"The best-guess prediction is that EI will be eradicated by June 30, 2008."

"This," the department added, "will depend on compliance with personal biosecurity."

The department has defended its campaign to eradicate equine flu, saying the state faced initial problems with the outbreak.

However, it said the geographical spread of the disease had changed little in the last six weeks, and with vaccine in use, eradication remains the top priority.

The Department of Primary Industries said five key factors came into play during the early stages of the outbreak.

The department said staff and support agencies reponded quickly. There was a plan in place to fight the disease and an excellent test meant up to 1000 samples could be processed each night. The vaccine eventually sourced produces effective immunity against the Australian strain after the first jab.

Outlining progress, the report pointed to little change in the geographical spread in the last six weeks.

"There have been three new groups of infection in the green zone but these have now been contained with vaccination buffers," a spokesman said. "Now that adequate vaccine supplies are available, it is possible to respond more quickly and effectively to put out the spot fire situations.

"Sending vaccine to uninfected states is like sending water tankers away from the fire front - highest priority for vaccine is where the disease is likely to occur."

The daily number of new infected properties is much lower than in mid-September and most are now occurring in previously infected areas and within vaccination buffers.

Less than 10% of Australia's total horse population has been exposed and vaccination within buffer zones is now close to 70% complete.

"Eradication is well on track and remains the number one priority."

In other news, a new infection in the northern part of the Dubbo vaccination buffer area will mean a extension on the red zone in that area. All other infected properties reported in the past 24 hours are in the red and purple zones.

The number of infected properties in New South Wales stands at 4967, with 458 labelled "dangerous contact" and 476 officially "suspect". An estimated 40,200 horses are affected in the state. Veterinarians have vaccinated 7161 horses out of the target of 13,476 in the buffer areas so far.

Surveillance testing is currently being implemented at Coonamble, Coonabarabran, Berry, Walcha and Gloucester Tops. Zone re-adjustments are planned as the testing progresses to confirm which isolated red zones are free of the disease. The required testing is quite extensive and will take up to two weeks to finalize.

NSW has more than 1000 people working to contain the outbreak, with eradication efforts costings $A15 million so far.

Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald, said: "The team includes more than 550 staff from DPI assisted by another 575 staff from other state government agencies including the Rural Fire Service, NSW Police, RTA, State Emergency Services and the Department of Environment and Climate Change.

In Queensland, more horses near the Sunshine Coast will be vaccinated to establish an inner buffer zone to help further contain equine influenza in the south-east Queensland.

DPI chief veterinary officer Dr Ron Glanville said the new inner buffer zone was part of a strategic plan to "back-burn", as you would with a bushfire, to stop any further spread of horse flu.

"Like the outer buffer, we are using natural features like forests, national parks and mountain ranges to mark the boundaries of the inner buffer," he said.

The Southern Sunshine Coast inner buffer will run north-west from Wild Horse Mountain forestry tower. Map

Further inner buffer zones are planned that run from Inglewood in the west, through Crows Nest and Esk districts and link to the Sunshine coast inner buffer.

This will effectively split the red zone in two containing the disease in the south east corner of the Red Zone.

Dr Glanville said veterinary teams would vaccinate all horses within a 10km wide strip to reduce the chance of infection through the areas with low horse populations.

"To date, 27,000 doses of vaccine have been dispensed to veterinary teams.

"Progress in the outer buffer zone has gone very well with more than 95% of horses vaccinated in the Goondiwindi section.

"The Gympie section is about 70% complete, while the Chinchilla, Yarromine, Tweed and Granite belt sections are about 50-60% complete.

"After eight weeks, horse flu in Queensland is still restricted to the South East corner of the state - this is directly attributable to the tight horse movement restrictions in the Red Zone and the buffer strategy, which help prevent any further spread.

"These restrictions may be relaxed in December, depending on the success of our vaccination programme, but for the time being it is critical that people continue complying with the movement restrictions, decontamination and other biosecurity precautions."



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