Oz mosquito virus prompts changes to NZ horse imports

1News can reveal horse imports from Australia are facing tougher scrutiny, as the country sees rising cases of a potentially deadly virus spread by mosquitoes.

Some of the animals will be turned away over fears they could tarnish New Zealand’s record of being free of Japanese encephalitis (JE).

Two people have been killed in Australia so far by the virus which is spread to humans through mosquito bites.

While less than 1% of people infected with JE will experience symptoms, the fatality rate for those who become symptomatic can be as high as 30%

JE can affect a wide range of animals, but it does not pass directly between them, meaning it can only move between bodies by a mosquito.

There have been several confirmed cases in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, with many identified in staff working at piggeries.

A vaccine for the virus is available in New Zealand.

Biosecurity New Zealand says it’s watching the situation closely but says there’s a low risk of the virus emerging, because we don’t import live pigs from Australia.

The most recent confirmed case of JE in Aotearoa was in 2004, but the person had been travelling overseas in their incubation period.

While the virus can infect horses (which New Zealand does import), they’re referred to as “dead end hosts” meaning they don’t pass the virus onto mosquitos, humans, or other horses.

However, Biosecurity New Zealand has reviewed the import requirements on the animals, to avoid a change to our international animal health status.

Any horses from within 100km of an active outbreak in Australia are now banned from being exported to New Zealand.

Industry representatives have told 1News that horses from within and infected area can be moved, quarantined, and then travel to New Zealand.

MPI’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mary van Andel said other measures are being taken.

“In addition, all horses imported from Australia are subject to a new condition to be monitored daily for 21 days for any signs of the disease and this must be reported to Biosecurity New Zealand.”

She said a new measure is being introduced to vaccinate horses against JE as well.

“Instructions have been provided to horse importers about the daily health inspection required, and advice has gone to equine veterinarians on looking out for the virus and reporting suspected JE to Biosecurity New Zealand.”

The Ministry of Health says it’s aware of the situation but confirms we haven’t seen any recent cases here.

In a statement it said it was working with Biosecurity New Zealand to identify ways the virus could enter New Zealand.