Equine Influenza: More than 14,000 Horses Affected; Vaccination Coming

Equine Center

Map of restricted and controlled areas in Queensland. Properties located in the red Restricted Zone are at a high risk of spreading equine influenza.

As of Sept. 17 in New South Wales, there were 1,183 infected properties, 362 dangerous contact properties, and 273 suspect properties. In Queensland there were 25 new infected properties reported for a total of 167. The number of horses affected by equine influenza in Australia is estimated at more than 14,000.

Late Sept. 18 it was reported by News.com.au that John Messara's Arrowfield Stud, a prestigious Thoroughbred breeding farm, has flu spreading through the property. For an audio interview with Messara visit racenet.com.au.

A "purple zone" in the Hunter Valley area where Thoroughbred breeding farms are located is being suggested for News South Wales to allow mares to visit stallions on other properties.

The prohibition of horse-related events was extended to Sept. 24 in New South Wales. Events may only be held with the approval of the NSW Chief Veterinary Officer. This events ban is reviewed each week.

New South Wales (NSW) Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said Sept. 17 about 10,000 doses of equine influenza vaccine will be imported for use in in special buffer zones in NSW.

�The vaccine represents the next phase in the campaign to eradicate the exotic horse flu, which has now infected more than 1,000 properties in New South Wales,� he said. �Vaccine will be imported once the Federal Government�s office of the Gene Technology Regulator signs off on this initiative--I have already written to them on this important matter.There is national agreement that we must use the vaccine strategically and with precision to stay one step ahead of the disease with the ultimate aim of eradication.

�I want to make it absolutely clear from the start that the vaccine will NOT be made available to each and every horse owner in New South Wales," stressed Macdonald. "it just won�t work that way.

�Exhaustive tracing, surveillance, and mapping efforts mean we now have a good handle on where the disease is," continued Macdonald. "This knowledge makes vaccine use in buffer zones the best option to contain and eradicate. Using vaccine earlier in the campaign, without the information we have now, would have been flying blind.�

Macdonald said vaccine use in New South Wales involves:

  • Buffer zones established around known EI hot spots--about 10km width.
  • About 5,000 horses will be vaccinated twice at an interval of 14 days.
  • Identification of horses using microchip.
  • Co-operation from horse owners in the buffer zones. 

Macdonald said that to ensure the most successful use of vaccine, the NSW Department of Primary Industries would define four risk zones across New South Wales.

�The zones are currently being defined and will be announced later in the week,� he said. "The standstill on all horse movements remains.�

Rosehill to Race

Good news from Macdonald was that crowds are to be allowed trackside at Rosehill this weekend for the first time since the ban on horse movement were put in place almost a month ago.

�Rosehill management are expecting about 7,000 people to attend,� he said. �Of course strict biosecurity measures will be in place at Rosehill, but it will be good to see people back trackside in New South Wales for the first time.�

Biosecurity Measures at Rosehill this Saturday include:

  • People will be restricted to the grandstand (and public area behind and just in front). This includes bookies, bar, toilets, and food facilities.
  • All horse areas will be shut off by a barrier. Areas will be clearly marked and security guards will be present.
  • Full biosecurity for all involved in the red zone (area where authorized people are coming into contact with horses), this includes cleaning shoes, changing clothes, washing hands, etc. when leaving.
  • Jockeys have to have clean gear and not be in contact with other horses for the previous 72 hours.
  • All barrier attendants must not have had contact with risk areas.

Report Sick Horses or Face Charges

On Sept. 18 horse owners were reminded about their legal responsibility under the Exotic Diseases Act to report any horse displaying flu-like symptoms. New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Steve Dunn said reporting ill horses is vital to stop any further spread of equine influenza.

"While most people are doing the right thing and reporting sick horses, we are still receiving tip-offs that some horse owners are not reporting," he said. "Failure to report could have widespread and serious implications in terms of our eradication program. Everyone has a responsibility under the Act to report, anyone who is found to have ignored this directive faces the full force of the law."

The maximum penalty for non reporting is $22,000 (Australian).

Queensland Fines Horse Owner

A 21-year-old Queensland stockman was fined $4,500 (Australian) on Sept. 17 after pleading guilty in the Dalby Magistrates Court to moving a horse without a permit during the national horse standstill. The court recorded a criminal conviction and ordered Zachary Croker from Bowenville, Queensland, to pay court costs.

The defendant moved his horses to his home at Bowenville from a feedlot facility near Dalby on Aug. 29.

Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Ron Glanville said this was a serious breach of the stock standstill notice declared under the Exotic Diseases Act.

"The purpose of the stock standstill is to reduce the spread of the disease in the first few weeks after detection to allow veterinarians to assess the areas were infected horses are located and to implement control programs," he said. "Blatant breaches of the standstill jeopardize the control program and could cost horse industries millions of dollars. Even worse, illegal movements could result in the disease becoming totally uncontrollable.

"I am pleased that the vast majority of the horse owners have done the right thing and have complied with the stock standstill," he added.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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