06/12/2008 12:00AM

Blame assigned in Australian flu outbreak


The Australian government's inquiry into 2007's widespread outbreak of equine influenza has blamed quarantine services for allowing the disease into the general horse population.

The outbreak of the highly contagious disease prompted a nationwide ban on horse transport for weeks and crippled the Australian breeding seasons in the Thoroughbred centers of New South Wales and Queensland last year.

The retired High Court judge who headed the inquiry, Ian Callinan, said the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service failed to enforce adequate security measures at the Eastern Creek quarantine facility near Sydney. Shuttle stallions from Japan are believed to have arrived at that facility and the Spotswood Quarantine station near Melbourne carrying the equine influenza virus.

"The best explanation for the simultaneous presence of infected horses at Eastern Creek and Spotswood Quarantine stations is that there was a common source of infection and that it came with the horses from Japan rather than the United States," the report concluded, adding that the virus most likely escaped Eastern Creek via the clothing or equipment of a groom, farrier, or other worker who had not properly disinfected.

Callinan made 38 recommendations, including appointment of an inspector-general of equine importation; requirement of blood samples from all Australian-bound horses before they leave pre-export quarantine in their countries of origin; and upgrading or constructing airport facilities specifically for the arrival and transfer of horses.

The federal agriculture minister, Tony Burke, said the government would accept all of the report's recommendations.