As of mid-September, Australia had statewide horse movement bans in place in New South Wales, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory in an effort to contain an outbreak of equine influenza in horses.
Until now, Australia was one of three countries considered free of the virus, along with Iceland and New Zealand. How the virus entered Australia and how it spread are currently under investigation.
At press time, New South Wales reported 1,386 properties with infected animals, 368 dangerous contact properties, and 342 suspect properties. In Queensland, there were 80 properties with infected horses. While there hasn't been a reported case of the disease in the Australian Capital Territory, the region implemented movement restrictions in response to the outbreak in New South Wales.
In the absence of secondary complications, healthy, adult horses usually recover from the disease within one to two weeks.
Though horses are routinely vaccinated against equine influenza in the United States, the situation in Australia serves as a reminder of how the introduction of a foreign, highly infectious and contagious disease could wreak havoc in animals that have no innate or vaccine-induced immunity to the disease.
"Where the United States is the leading Thoroughbred producer in the world and Australia is number two, there's a lot of exchange and travel of horses internationally ... and with them potentially comes diseases," said Dr. Roberta Dwyer, infectious disease spokesperson for the American Association of Equine Practitioners and a professor in the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky.
"It's a small, shrinking world, and (this outbreak) reminds us to look at what they're experiencing and be able to take lessons learned from their unfortunate hardship with this disease, and to retake a look at our biosecurity measures, whether it's at a quarantine facility in Los Angeles or if it's on my backyard horse farm," Dr. Dwyer continued.
In Australia, the movement restrictions have caused substantial financial hardship for many individuals and business operators, including veterinarians.
According to Dr. Diane Sheehan, president of the Australian Veterinary Association, some veterinary practices that specialize in equine services have seen their incomes cut by 90 percent, and many veterinarians are working without payment to assist.
On Sept. 9, the Australian government announced it would provide a $110 million (approximately US$96 million) funding package to assist individuals and businesses facing substantial financial hardship as a result of the quarantine measures. The funding package is in addition to a $4 million (approximately US$3.5 million) fund provided by the government to help those in need of emergency financial assistance. But some say that more funding is needed.
To learn more about the outbreak, visit the Commonwealth of Australia's national pests and disease outbreaks Web site at www.outbreak.gov.au.