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Study to explore emotional impact of equine flu

December 20, 2007

Has the Australian outbreak of equine influenza made you feel down?

A survey is being launched by the University of Western Sydney to assess the psychological, social and emotional impact the disease is having on the community.

Dr Melanie Taylor, senior research fellow in the university's School of Medicine, believes the equine influenza pandemic has effects extending far beyond the immediate concerns of restricted movement and financial difficulties.

"So far there has been a strong focus on containing the disease, determining how it was introduced and the direct financial impact on business - but understanding the distress EI is causing individuals is just as important," says Dr Taylor, who is also a member of the university's Science of Mental Health and Adversity Unit.

Dr Taylor has devised an online survey to assess the emotional impact the current outbreak is having on horse owners and others affected by the disease.

"Some people are feeling stressed not only by the extra precautions and continuing risk of infection, but there is a level of uncertainty about the future," Dr Taylor says.

"There is some level of suspicion and mistrust within the community, as the news media report allegations of failed quarantined procedures actually causing the outbreak."

Dr Taylor says the survey will ask people how effective they think the containment procedures have been, and how distressing the equine flu outbreak has been for them personally.

The study will also address people's response to the quarantine measures - in particular, how they have coped maintaining high levels of biosecurity which restrict their movement and require tough disinfection procedures.

Importantly, survey participants will be questioned on their thoughts about future risks.

"A key aim of the research is to identify the risk factors which may hinder longer-term recovery and could affect individuals' future response to adversity," Dr Taylor says.

"The new understanding of the psychological and social impacts of disease containment could be used not only to plan for future animal disease outbreaks, but also be incorporated into plans for human pandemics, such as influenza," she says.

Horse owners, horse industry workers, riders, enthusiasts and anyone who has been affected by the EI outbreak in 2007 are encouraged to participate in the study by visiting the online survey:

The results are expected to be available in early 2008.



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