08/27/2007 11:00PM

Flu spreads in Australia


Australia’s first outbreak of equine influenza continued to widen its scope on Tuesday, though the country’s population of racehorses remains unaffected so far.

On Tuesday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that eight police horses in New South Wales – the epicenter of the outbreak – had tested positive for equine influenza, prompting government officials to quarantine all 36 horses at the Mounted Police Center in Redfern for six to eight weeks.

New South Wales’s minister of primary industry, Ian Macdonald, also confirmed that the influenza strain seen in Australia is the same one that recently caused Japanese authorities to shut down racing there. Authorities believe equine influenza entered the country with a Thoroughbred stallion arriving at a Sydney-area quarantine facility from Japan.

Last week, authorities locked down two quarantine facilities containing 79 horses, among them prominent shuttle stallions Encosta de Lago of Coolmore and Bernardini of Darley, after several unidentified horses showed signs of illness. Darley announced Tuesday that it was canceling a planned stallion show because of the outbreak.

The disease has since moved out of the quarantine facilities and into surrounding horse populations. But, so far, racetracks have remained free of equine influenza. Flemington and Caulfield reopened for workouts Tuesday, Randwick was expected to reopen Wednesday, and government authorities said racing in most jurisdictions could begin by the weekend.

Equine influenza is a respiratory disease that is rarely fatal but is highly contagious. As of Tuesday, 615 horses in Australia were under quarantine, with 58 horses testing positive for the disease.