Australian Snafu Allows Clearance Of EIA Mare

Australian quarantine officials are investigating how a sample-labeling mix-up threatened to bring New Zealand's horse industries to a halt less than two months before the scheduled arrival of shuttle stallions from North America, Europe and Japan.

A North American mare cleared by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS), was later found to have equine infectious anemia (EIA). The mare, Mrs. Oliver, was euthanitized at the Ruakura Research Station near Hamilton, New Zealand on the night of June 8. Blood samples from the pregnant daughter of Nijinsky II were taken before her remains were incinerated. Mrs. Oliver had been isolated at an unnamed stud farm at Cambridge, NZ for 10 days before AQIS notified the New Zealand Government Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) immediately the blood sample mistake was discovered.

Four other mares and a horse-in-training traveled with Mrs. Oliver from Sydney, Australia, to Auckland on May 24. While waiting to be declared EIA free, they are quarantined in the Waikato, where New Zealand's Thoroughbred breeding industry is centered. They are expected to test negative to the equine equivalent of Aids.

The disease is believed to be transmitted by flies or contaminated needles. Five of the group had AQIS certification before embarking, with a sixth quarantined on arrival pending a EIA clearance. It was another horse, however, rather than Mrs. Oliver, which ended up being detained because of the blood sample mix-up. There is no known cure for EIA, which had not previously reached New Zealand. The disease still exists in isolation in the northern Australian state of Queensland, where the unrelated Hendra (Equine Morbillivirus) disease claimed two human lives and those of at least 14 horses in 1994-95. The last reported Australian instance of EIA outside of that tropical state was an isolated case in Victoria in 1976.

The lab mistake upset some New Zealand breeders. However, Cambridge Stud owner, Patrick Hogan, believes that there are positive elements in the near disaster. "The bottom-line is that the protocols proved effective. The mistake might have had dire consequences and there was an element of luck in the good management by staff at the stud she went to, in that they isolated her from the time of her arrival.” To its credit, the AQIS administration wasted no time in contacting MAF once the error was discovered. The New Zealand authority acted quickly and decisively.

"In the past 10 or 12 years in particular, the numbers of horses traveling between New Zealand and Australia has been substantial,” Hogan said. "From the midst of those increasing numbers, we have all had a wake-up call against dropping the guard in regards to equine diseases."

The chief executive of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, Michael Martin, also conceded that errors happen, adding: "when you and I go to a hospital for a blood test we don't expect to receive someone else's results."

Martin said the industry, in round figures, employed 30,000 people and annually exported around 2,000 horses worth $100 million (New Zealand funds). "We simply cannot afford to have testing procedures on a horse coming in to this country compromised in any way," he added. "Vigilance must be total."

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