Saturday, 1 September 2007

Horse flu demonstrates how extraordinarily lucky we have been with bird flu.

It's amazing how simple things can bring an entire house of cards tumbling down.

I have just been on the phone to a dog breeder we are about to collect another hound from, and the conversation turned to the equine influenza which has just struck a fairly startled Australia and cancelled a couple of early season horse races.

Here's what the media hasn't really reported so far, mixed in with what little it has:

The infection rate is 100% upon exposure, and the mortality rate is 40%. It's air-borne, so fences alone will not contain it. It can survive for up to 24 hours on humans, but up to 36 hours upon clothing, so just separating horses and not people will not contain it.

Consider the impact of cancelling some races: TAB employees have not worked. Caterers, security guards, carpark attendants, bookies and their runners etc. have not worked at the races. Horses can't be exercised while they're in lock-down quarantine, and after 10 days a race horse starts losing condition. Expect Melbourne Cup to not happen this year. At all. If a horse gets the flu and is in the lucky 60% that survives, it can have heart or lung damage, which means that it will never race again. People have spent $2million on a foal, kept it and trained it for 2 years, at several thousand dollars a week, and may never have it race.

Now consider rural communities: Everyone has horses. They can't visit each other. Real-estate agents can't work because they can't visit properties. Vets can't visit properties. Without phones everyone would be isolated. People have to set aside clothes just for feeding their horses and just for leaving the property, and then strip off, put the clothes in plastic bags, shower, sterilise wherever they've walked, put on different (clean) clothes to do the shopping, spray disinfectant (industrial peroxide is good) on their car underbodies and tyres before leaving the property, and just to be on the safe side after returning as well.

It's out in Queensland, thanks to horse movements. Police have already stopped people violating quarantine and fined them large amounts of money, and you can bet that it will continue to happen.

Human beings are not, by nature, sensible when it comes to diseases. Remember the American who was thought (incorrectly, luckily) to have a rare and virulent form of TB and evaded detention to fly home, putting the entire plane and his entire country at risk?

If H5N1 ever does take off, or anything else for that matter, we are doomed.

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