High risk horses identified

27 August 2007

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) has classified as high priority 14 premises that have received horses from Australia in the last ten days. MAFBNZ is in the process of collecting blood samples from these animals for testing. Samples will be completed by the end of tomorrow (Tuesday) and test results are expected early next week.

Blood samples will be collected from all 97 horses that have been imported from Australia since 1 August 2007.

Any horse with suspected symptoms of equine influenza will be investigated immediately and blood samples will be collected to rule out infection.

There is currently no evidence of equine influenza in New Zealand. Over the coming weeks MAFBNZ should be more certain whether New Zealand is free of equine influenza or not. This will allow time for MAFBNZ to visit the properties and for horses to develop symptoms. 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.

Anyone suspecting that their horse may have equine influenza, or has imported a horse from Australia in the last ten days, should isolate the horse from other animals. Horse owners need to be vigilant for signs of the disease (see below). Anyone who suspects their horse may be showing symptoms of equine influenza should contact their vet immediately or phone the MAFBNZ emergency hotline 0800 80 99 66.

MAFBNZ has halted all imports of horses from Australia and tightened up border procedures around the importation of horse equipment.

All horse equipment that arrives in New Zealand from Australia are being directed by MAFBNZ to a treatment facility for cleaning, disinfection and/or fumigation. Passengers entering New Zealand from Australia are being questioned as to their movements within the country. If they have come from or visited an infected area they are being questioned further and may have their personal luggage searched.

MAFBNZ is working closely with the Australian authorities, the New Zealand equine industry and the veterinary association, and will review the situation over the next two or three days, as more information comes to light.

A comprehensive response plan has been prepared and two vaccines are registered for emergency use, should the disease be found here. There are currently no plans to vaccinate horses in New Zealand as a precautionary measure.

Equine influenza is a highly contagious viral respiratory disease that spreads rapidly causing significant illness in horses. It is similar to other viral conditions which cause coughing and some discharge from a horse’s nose. However, the influenza is more severe - horses develop a temperature and a dry, hacking cough.

Horses with equine influenza become tired and do not eat, often for days. If there is nasal discharge it will begin clear but thicken and cloud.

The disease is spread by close contact between horses. Infected horses and contaminated equipment or people may spread the infection from farm to farm. The disease lasts several days with full recovery taking two to three weeks, although some horses may develop complications.

Equine influenza is not of human health concern.

For further information, contact:

Helen Keyes, Senior Communications Adviser, 04 894 0161, 029 894 0161, Helen.keyes@maf.govt.nz

Contact MPI

for general enquiries phone

0800 00 83 33