Bird flu test saves Australian horses

We have numerous examples of basic science that becomes unexpectedly useful and other examples of how veterinary science is useful to human health. Once you begin to understand how the world works it gives you tools that can be extended. The first stick used to knock a banana off a tree proved useful for lots of other things as well -- for example, whacking another monkey trying to poach on your personal banana patch (the Second Amendment of the Monkey Constitution gives all primates the Right to carry a club). So it's not such a big surprise that work on bird flu to save humans might have had its first success in saving horses:.

The global threat of bird flu saved the Australian horse industry, experts say.

In 2004, the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory developed a molecular diagnostic test for bird flu, at a time when equine influenza (EI) was not even on the radar.

Three years later, the same test was used in the effort to stop the spread of EI, with Agtrans Research saying it allowed authorities to determine the best ways to contain it.

"It's fortuitous that this diagnostic test could be applied to horse flu, as it's highly unlikely that a similar test could have been developed in a timely manner once the outbreak had been detected," Agtrans' Dr Peter Chudleigh said in a statement.

"The use of the test supported the decision to try for eventual eradication." (

Australia has very tough quarantine laws, their effectiveness made feasible by the fact the nation is an island. But it didn't stop equine influenza from sneaking through a Sydney quarantine station. It shut down the Australian racing industry for three months and might cost the government millions in compensation claims because of alleged malfeasance. Use of a rapid test allowed the virus to be contained. At the end of June Australia went six months without a new case, so they are declaring themselves "equine influenza free." Whenever I hear that I get worried the flu gods will send a viral thunderbolt as punishment for thinking you can get a rid of a flu virus this easily, but maybe they did it.

And if they did, the horses can thank the birds. The ones that are still alive, anyway

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1. Equine influenza rarely kills. Almost all Australian horses infected with EI are still alive.

2. The test didn't help authorities determine the best ways to contain it - epidemiological evidence and expert opinion from veterinary epidemiologists did (with no small measure of political interference to avoid). Test results from the PCR were only a component of the overall evidence.

Don't get me wrong - I think it's great that they had the test available, and the lab capacity to use it on large numbers. However, I think it would be overstating it to say that it "saved the horse industry" and "stopped the epidemic".

I also share your concerns regarding the "influenza free" statement. I think they need to wait until 12 months after they stopped vaccinating, implementing thorough active and passive surveillance in the interim, and THEN see what they find.

By Attack Rate (not verified) on 03 Aug 2008 #permalink

why do they have to use Australian tests and
can't just use the tests from America,Europe,Asia ?

Patch: Been carrying that paper around in my briefcase for a week. I'll try to get to it.