Equine exports suspended due to suspect positive test for piroplasmosis

The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has suspended all equine exports into or via Australia with immediate effect. This is because of a suspect positive test result for the disease Theileria equi that was returned as part of standard export certification testing of a mare prior to shipment from New Zealand. Further blood tests have been taken from the mare and these results are expected later today or over the weekend.

Theileria equi is an exotic blood-borne disease that causes anaemia and is spread from animal to animal by ticks. The ticks known to transmit the disease overseas are not present in New Zealand and the tick we do have in New Zealand is not believed to be capable of transmitting it. The disease is not infectious between horses.

The horse in question was imported to New Zealand from the UK early last year. It met MPI’s importation requirements including a negative test for Theileria equi within 30 days of shipment. Before export, the horse was quarantined for three weeks, examined by a veterinarian and treated to remove any ticks. The horse had been tested by European laboratories in the months before it left and tested negative for Theileria equi. On arrival in New Zealand, the horse was checked by an MPI veterinarian and placed in post-arrival quarantine. It was further inspected by an equine veterinarian at the quarantine location within 24 hours of arrival, around the middle of quarantine and then prior to release. No signs of disease have been reported in the horse since its arrival in NZ.

There has never been a confirmed case of Theileria equi in New Zealand. Biosecurity New Zealand and MPI are carrying out a full investigation to confirm this is an isolated case. The farm involved is cooperating fully and as of this morning (22 May) extensive testing of in-contact animals has started, to allow informed decisions to be made if the mare returns a true positive test.

Some countries that import horses from New Zealand, including Australia, require certification that New Zealand is free of Theileria equi. This suspect positive test result means MPI cannot currently provide that assurance. For this reason, a shipment of horses to Australia scheduled for the evening of 19 May was put on hold and another shipment scheduled for today could also be delayed. MPI is aware this situation is causing significant concern to the equine sector. MPI's market access specialists are working with Australian authorities to explore alternative assurance options to resolve things as quickly as possible and ensure ongoing horse exports are not interrupted.

The New Zealand equine industry has signed a Government Industry Agreement for biosecurity readiness and response. If pending test results come back positive, any response to the presence of Theileria equi in NZ will be jointly led by the equine industry (via the NZ Equine Health Association) and MPI.

Please direct queries to the NZ Equine Health Association chair, Dr Ivan Bridge, who is also the NZVA representative to the NZEHA, or the respective industry representatives whose details are available here.