Today was a watershed day for the horse world of Australia.
Until today, the disease of equine influenza (EI, or "horse flu") had never been found in a horse in Australia or New Zealand. You may remember the careful quarantine protocol for the Olympics in Sydney; the Aussies took no chances.
Because the disease is unknown there, horses are not vaccinated for EI. Compare that to Japan, where every horse is required to be vaccinated.
Eleven horses in Sydney's Centennial Park, where 700 horses including the mounted police horses are now quarantined, have tested positive for EI; the source of the disease is unknown. Meanwhile, five of the world's most valuable Thoroughbred and Standardbred stallions have also tested positive, but they remain in quarantine at the import station, along with 70 other stallions who will not be released to begin the September 1 breeding season.
The state of New South Wales, where Sydney is located, has ordered a cessation of horse activity and movement. It is mid-winter in Sydney, and the breeding season is about to begin. The elegant racetrack at Randwick in Sydney is closed to prevent infection. The year's biggest races including the world-famous Melbourne Cup, are coming up in the next few months.
If you have ever traveled to Australia or New Zealand, you know that this is no joke. Inspectors come on board the plane when you land and spray inside the overhead bins. They inspect your luggage with a vengeance, looking not for guns or drugs or even toe-nail clippers but any sort of food or fruit that could harbor a fly or mite or weevil.
Our friend Franz Venhaus at the Equestrian Federation of Australia shared this announcement from his government:
"Following the confirmation of Equine Influenza in horses stabled at Centennial Park in the center of Sydney, the NSW Minister for Agriculture has canceled all horse events and all horse movements in NSW. Seven hundred horses near Centennial Park have been quarantined.
"We urge all horse owners and riders not to transport their horses and to avoid making contact with other horses. They should thoroughly wash after contact with their horses. They should also watch out for any symptoms of infection in their horses, like a raised temperature, nasal discharge and coughing, and if present, report this firstly to their vet and, particularly if groups of horses are involved, call the disease emergency hotline 1800 675 888.
"All equestrian events in NSW are to be called off pending further information on the extent of the Equine Influenza outbreak.
"Equine influenza (EI) is an acute, highly contagious, viral disease which can cause rapidly spreading outbreaks of respiratory disease in horses and other equine species. EI is exotic to Australia and would have a major impact on the Australian horse industry if it were to become established here.
"New South Wales Department of Primary Industries is sending Inspectors under the Stock Diseases Act 1923 to inspect horses where there is concern that they may have been exposed to an infected horse."
Good luck, Aussies.