Lax Quarantine Blamed for Spread of Equine Flu Outbreak in Australia

by VR Sreeraman on  June 13, 2008 at 11:56 AM Bird Flu News   - G J E 4
An equine influenza outbreak that crippled the Australian horse racing industry was started by animals from Japan and spread through lax quarantine practices, an official report found Thursday.
 Lax Quarantine Blamed for Spread of Equine Flu Outbreak in Australia
Lax Quarantine Blamed for Spread of Equine Flu Outbreak in Australia

The outbreak shut down Australian racing in many states for months in late 2007, a crisis the industry estimates cost at least one billion dollars (960 million US) as race meetings were cancelled and studs were locked down.

Former High Court judge Ian Callinan's report into the causes of the outbreak contained a scathing assessment of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS).

It found AQIS had neglected biosecurity at its Eastern Creek station in western Sydney for years, failing to decontaminate vets and other staff who were in contact with animals at the facility where the outbreak started.

"Fundamental biosecurity measures were not being implemented in the largest government-operated animal quarantine station in Australia," Callinan found.

He concluded that a number of Japanese horses among a shipment of 13 flown into Melbourne on August 8 last year had equine influenza.

Some were taken to a quarantine station in Melbourne, where the virus was contained, while others went to Eastern Creek.

From there, the contamination spread to stables and showgrounds across New South Wales and Queensland, preventing the transport of horses and bringing the industry to a standstill.

Police in Sydney had to cancel plans for mounted officers to patrol the streets for a meeting of Asia Pacific leaders in September and the Melbourne Cup last November had to be conducted under strict quarantine conditions.

Callinan said tests showed the strain of equine influenza found at Eastern Creek was almost identical to one found in an outbreak in Japan last August. Before the outbreak, Australia had been free of the virus.

Agriculture Minister Tony Burke said the government would implement all 38 recommendations in Calllinan's report and was determined to drive cultural change in the quarantine service.

During the outbreak, more than 100,000 doses of equine influenza vaccine were administered as part of an emergency response the government said cost 342 million dollars.

Source: AFP

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