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EQUINE INFLUENZA: Latest Update from NZEHA

Bruce Graham, chairman of the New Zealand Equine Health Association, has compiled these key points from the Association's meeting today with MAF Biosecurity New Zealand:

  • New Zealand's suspension on horse imports from Australia remains in place.
  • There is currently no evidence of equine influenza in New Zealand.
  • MAF Biosecurity New Zealand has identified and traced 97 horses imported from Australia since the beginning of August. These horses are located on 53 properties.
  • All horses that have entered New Zealand from Australia since 1 August 2007 will be tested for Equine Influenza.
  • MAF Biosecurity New Zealand is now visiting all 53 sites and will test any horses for equine influenza that are showing symptoms of the disease.
  • As the investigation progresses and time passes MAF is growing more confident that equine influenza has not arrived in New Zealand.
  • Over the next one to two weeks MAF should be more certain whether New Zealand is free of equine influenza or not. This will allow time for horses to develop symptoms and will enable MAF to visit all the properties where the horses recently imported from Australia are located.
  • Although horses that have never been exposed to the virus show symptoms rapidly, horses that have been vaccinated for the disease can carry the virus for up to two weeks and show little or no signs of illness themselves. Investigators will need to take account of this when assessing horses that have entered New Zealand.
  • MAF Biosecurity New Zealand is continuing to work closely with the New Zealand Equine Health Association and New Zealand Veterinary Association during the investigation.
  • MAF Biosecurity New Zealand has tightened up border procedures around the importation of horse equipment.
  • All horse equipment that arrives in New Zealand from Australia will be directed by MAF Biosecurity New Zealand to a treatment facility for cleaning, disinfection and/or fumigation.
  • Passengers entering New Zealand from Australia will be questioned as to their movements within the country and their contact with horses. If they have come from or visited an infected area they will be questioned further and may have their personal luggage searched.
  • The likelihood of clothing, particularly clean clothing, introducing equine influenza is considered negligible.
  • The MAF Biosecurity New Zealand response team is reviewing the response plan and checking on availability of vaccines, to prepare for a possible response if equine influenza is found in New Zealand.
  • MAF Biosecurity New Zealand will not vaccinate horses against equine influenza as a precautionary measure. The Australian government has stated that its objective is to eradicate the virus and regain its negative equine influenza status. Therefore, to retain health equivalence with Australia, New Zealand will not vaccinate. This position will be reviewed if the situation in Australia changes.
  • Eradicating or controlling equine influenza would not involve destroying horses. It would involve isolating infected horses until they become free of the virus. It could also entail vaccinating horses to increase immunity to the virus.
  • If a case of equine influenza was detected, MAF would move quickly to consider whether to impose a national stand-still to stamp out the disease. This decision would be guided by the likelihood of successful eradication given how widespread the disease was and consideration of the costs of the response versus the benefits it offers.
  • Equine influenza is a major viral respiratory disease among horses which can cause significant illness in adult horses and can be fatal for foals. The disease lasts several days with full recovery taking two to three weeks.
  • If you suspect that your horse may have Equine Influenza, or you have imported a horse from Australia in the last ten days and have concerns we recommend that you isolate the horse from other animals on your property.
  • Horse owners need to be vigilant for signs of the disease. Anyone who suspects their horse may be showing symptoms of equine influenza should contact their vet immediately or phone the MAF Biosecurity New Zealand emergency hotline 0800 80 99 66.
  • The disease is spread by close contact between horses. Infected horses and contaminated equipment or people may spread the infection from farm to farm.
  • New Zealand is one of the few countries free from equine influenza.
  • Equine Influenza is not of human health concern.

- NZ Equine Health Association