Australia has very strict quarantine laws that need to be adhered to when importing a horse from overseas. There are some countries that we will not accept horses from because of the high risk they represent at bringing in an exotic disease. Other countries can export to Australia but only after their horses have been placed into quarantine before their departure from their country and again into quarantine on their arrival here. Even our horses that have travelled overseas for competitions must go through quarantine to be able to return home, sometimes requiring extended periods in a third country before being able to land in Australia.
There are many diseases that affect horses that we do not have in Australia, some spread by direct contact between horses, some by contact with infected equipment or personnel, and others via insect-borne transmission. The main virus of concern is Equine Influenza (EI) but other diseases (not all viral) we are keen to avoid include African Horse Sickness, Piroplasmosis, Contagious Equine Metritis, Dourine, Surra, Glanders, Viral Encephalitis and Rabies.
Equine Influenza is a respiratory virus that is highly contagious and spreads quickly between horses, causing a high temperature, deep hacking cough and nasal discharge. Fortunately, the mortality rate is low. The economic cost to the equine industry, however, is very high due to the profound number of horses that can be infected in a short time, forcing the closure of many horse events. Australia was impacted in 2007 when the EI virus escaped from the quarantine facilities in Sydney, into the grounds of Centennial Park and then exploded into the horse populations of New South Wales and Queensland. The rate of spread was phenomenal because the Australian horse population was naïve when it came to immunity and every horse was susceptible.
The economic consequences not only to the equine industry, but also the Australian economy, were enormous with horse events and horse travel stopped in its steps to control the outbreak. Simply by stopping racing in NSW, the racing participants, veterinarians, farriers, feed merchants, truck drivers, caterers, milliners, retail designers and a multitude of other businesses that feed off racing were heavily impacted. The response by the government to shut down the affected areas of the country, strategically vaccinate the horses at risk and eradicate the disease from our shores should be commended. Australia is the only country in the world that has ever eradicated EI once it has entered their horse population.