Effectiveness of On-Farm Biosecurity Measures Studied

Prior to August 2007, there had been no reported cases of equine influenza in Australia; the 2007 equine influenza outbreak that ravaged New South Wales (NSW) resulted in a four-month epidemic, infecting approximately 70,000 horses before eradication was achieved.

"The 2007 epidemic of equine influenza in Australia provided an opportunity to investigate the effectiveness of on-farm biosecurity measures in preventing the spread of a novel pathogen in a largely naive population," a research team from the University of Sydney explained. In 2011 the team released their study findings about on-farm biosecurity measures that Australian animal health authorities had advised horse owners to follow to reduce the epidemic’s spread. Recommended measures included hand washing, changing clothing and shoes, disinfecting equipment, utilizing footbaths, isolating horses showing clinical signs, halting horse movement, restricting access between horses over fences of adjacent properties, and isolating infected horses’ waste.

Horse owners and managers from 200 horse properties in highly affected areas of NSW participated in this case-control study, which sampled data from the first seven weeks of the epidemic. Interviews conducted with horse owners and farm managers revealed each facility’s compliance with recommended biosecurity measures and other risk factors for spread onto a property at the time of the outbreak.

 “The results of our analysis suggest that compliance with certain on-farm biosecurity practices prevented horses on premises in high-risk areas from being infected,” noted Simon Firestone, BVSc, BSc, PGDipEpi, MAppEpi, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.

The study found that simple barrier hygiene practices reduced the risk of infection significantly. For instance, horses were four times as likely to be infected if caretakers did not use a footbath before handling them in the peak of the outbreak.

“In future outbreaks, in addition to broader disease control measures, on-farm biosecurity practices should be adopted by horse owners and managers to prevent local spread,” Firestone said.

"A case-control study of risk factors for equine influenza spread onto horse premises during the 2007 epidemic in Australia" was published in 2011 in Preventive Veterinary Medicine. The abstract of this study, funded by the Rural Industries Research Development Corporation and the Australian Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases, is available on Pubmed.

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