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Annual flu jabs cost $A200m if flu becomes endemic

October 27, 2007

Allowing equine flu to become endemic in Australia could end up costing more than $A200 million a year in inoculation costs.

"If we don't all pull together and stop EI now - if EI becomes endemic in Australia - horses will need annual vaccinations which have been estimated to cost approximately $300 per horse each year," said Ron Glanville, chief veterinary officer for Queensland's Department of Primary Industries.

"People need to realise this will affect all horse owners - it is a very real potential outcome which can be prevented by decontamination procedures being followed at all horse properties," he said.

The number of horses in Australia is estimated at 1.2 million, of which an estimated 300,000 are brumbies.

Allowing for 80% compliance among domesticated horses for a vaccination programme - the figure usually considered necessary for the exercise to be effective - would bring the annual cost $A216 million.

Dr Glanville urged people to continue with decontamination measures around properties, whether equine flu is known to be present or not.

"This slight inconvenience could prove to be the make or break in the fight to control EI," he said.

Meanwhile, Queensland equine industry workers and businesses will soon have three dedicated contacts on the ground offering help. People needing work will be offered paid employment on several equine-related projects being set up.

Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations John Mickel said a $A150,000 government grant is being used to hire three employment coordinators to assist those affected by the outbreak.

"The coordinators, based at the Queensland Harness Racing Board in Albion, will focus on identifying workers suffering financial strain as a result of the outbreak who might benefit from short-term paid work.

"They will then work with equine industry organisations to develop a suite of projects that will employ these people and help the industry recover until the crisis recedes," Mr Mickel said.

"The projects, which we aim to have running in a matter of weeks, will have a direct and positive impact on the industry and may include track works, beautification and upgrades of horse industry venues."

Mr Mickel stressed that the assistance was not just for those in the racing industry - but that it covered all people adversely affected by the outbreak.

"One coordinator will focus directly on helping people working in areas represented by the Performance and Pleasure Horse Industry Group which includes pony clubs, equestrian horses and show jumping, among others," he said.

"The coordinators will also act as a conduit between affected people, industry and government - educating and advising individuals on available support and reporting back on areas of need and the success of the State Government's wider $20 million Equine Influenza Response Package."

Racing Board Chairman Bob Lette said two of the coordinators - Kerry Baker and Gail Dawson - started this week and the Performance and Pleasure Horse Industry Group coordinator will be on board soon.

"The strict movement controls put in place to contain the spread of the virus have meant that business has virtually come to a standstill and people are suffering great hardship," Mr Lette said.

"The equine crisis isn't just affecting people directly employed in horse-related industries but has had ripple effects to many other businesses.

"It's vital that we offer people alternative income sources during these difficult times that don't threaten the ability of employers to find skilled staff when the industry gets back on its feet.

"By giving people the chance to get paid work on projects that will upgrade and enhance racing venues we can help them financially and keep them in the industry.

"The target areas for assistance are the Red Exclusion Zones within South-East Queensland - especially around horse industry venues."

In New South Wales, the Department of Primary Industries has warned horse owners about natural or herbal medicines being promoted to combat equine flu.

"Products are being advertised as homeopathic alternatives to EI veterinary vaccine," said NSW deputy chief veterinary officer Steve Dunn, "The only products proven to build any immunity against explosively contagious horse flu are those permitted for use by the state chief veterinary officer.

"In NSW we are using the best vaccine internationally available to combat the strain of the virus affecting our horses.

"Our message is buyer beware - these claims are not backed up by scientific evidence and the products are not registered or approved under permit by the national chemical regulator."

Mr Dunn said the best way for horse owners to protect their animals' health was to employ strict biosecurity.

"Horse owners shouldn't be visiting infected properties or getting visitors from them - this is one way the disease transfers between sites," he said.

"All horses should be kept away from boundary fences, owners should exercise thorough biosecurity before and after handling horses and should closely monitor the health of their animals."

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