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The world is watching, says horse flu expert

December 5, 2007

A key figure in the development of the equine flu vaccine has visited Australia, saying the world is watching the country as it battles to contain the disease.

"The whole world is looking at you," said the director of Merial Equine Biologic Projects, Dr Jules Minke. "If you eradicate this you will have done a wonderful job."

Dr Minke, who was briefed on the progress of the New South Wales control campaign, said he believed there were still hurdles to be overcome in the battle to eradicate the disease in Australia.

"This is a very contagious virus, there are compliance issues that are out of your control and there is no immunity in your naive horse population," he said.

"Everything I have been shown today looks promising and good. You are doing all the right things."

Dr Minke also updated local veterinary experts on the vaccine. He presented results of trials to senior NSW Department of Primary Industries veterinarians at Orange showing the live ProteqFlu vaccine could stop most horses shedding the virus within a few days of vaccination.

Unvaccinated horses produced much greater quantities of virus in Merial trials and shed the virus for up to 10 days.

"I am proud of this product. Short term protection is nearly absolute," Dr Minke said.

"Based on overseas experience with related strains, I am very comfortable that the vaccine is doing a good job."

The vaccine was developed by Merial because of the limited success of some inactivated vaccines, according to Dr Minke.

ProtequFlu is based on a modified canary pox virus that activates an immune response close to a natural infection, but without causing disease.

"It provides a much broader protection than most vaccines," he said.

"Canary pox vectors have been used safely in vaccines in Europe and the US for many years in domestic animals and horses, and have been sought by zoos around the world to protect endangered animals from disease, including red pandas and leopards, because of their safety.

"I don't know the exact numbers, but I would estimate that over 40 million doses have been used around the world.

"The vaccine has been tested in many species and has been found to be safe in every species tested."



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