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Interview with Brigadier General Dr. Murnane,  DVM, USA Ret. discussing the Australian equine influenza

Dr. Thomas Murnane is a graduate of Texas A&M University (1947) and served in clinical practice with the US-Mexican commission to eradicate foot and mouth disease.  Dr. Murnane entered the army in 1949 and served continuously for 31 years, retiring as Brigadier General and chief of the US army veterinary corps.

Dr. Murnane served principally in medical research and diagnostic laboratories and later in staff positions.

As a staff officer with the United States Army Medical Research Command he assisted administratively in the military’s response to the Venezuelan equine encephalitis epizootic which occurred in South America and Central America and erupted in the US in 1971.  The disease was successfully eradicated from the US by a combination of Federal, military and state authorities and private practitioners.

He is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.  He remains active in public health issues and veterinary medical history today and is an active member of the American Veterinary Medical History Society.

Dr. Murnane was kind enough to answer some questions posed by the LRG-AF.

LRG-AF:  Do you perceive any similarities between the rapid spread of equine influenza across Canada and the United States in 1872 and the current outbreak in Japan and Australia?

Dr. Murnane:   The 1872 epizootic was an international movement given its origination in Canada and subsequent introduction into the US and Cuba.  The spread of equine influenza (EI) from Canada, through the majority of the United States and into the Caribbean, was remarkable.  The disease moved from animal to animal and through some residual contact such as public water troughs.  Horses were moved by railcars in that era but otherwise the perpetuation of the disease was dependent on movement of horses, per se.  Today, current transport of horses by automobile trailers or vans and aircraft enables rapid dissemination of diseases.  How else would a disease move from Japan, quickly without suspicion of illness, other than through air transport?  Today we are dealing with international and regional movement of animal athletes who deserve the best in rapid and comfortable accommodations, but simultaneously the arrangements enable swift and widespread movement of infectious animals.

The population of horses one hundred and thirty-five years ago was very distinct from today.  Then, there were urban horses engaged in the transport of humans and goods.  Now animals are not congregated in urban areas for transport of humans or materials.  Rather they are congregated for racing and other sporting events like rodeos and horse shows.   Although we are dealing with different populations and transport means, the current epizootic of EI potentially may spread with increasing rapidity if not curbed by immediate and drastic curtailment of movement of potentially exposed or infected animals or the movement of clean healthy animals into infected areas.  Animal movement must be regulated.

LRG-AF:  Although most of the horses in the 1872 epizootic recovered and returned to work, they were primarily draft animals.  How do you think the multi-million dollar equine athletes in the racing, three-day-eventing, show-jumping etc. competitive worlds will be affected in the long term by this influenza?

Dr. Murnane:  I believe the consequences of infection of working, pleasure and athletic horses today is potentially more significant than the working horses of the 1870s.  Our animals today are finely tuned.  Although fatality may not be a substantial consequence of infection, any residual impairment of performance will hinder the usefulness and value of these affected animals.  This consequence is to be evaluated, but horsemen and authorities should take every precaution to preclude dissemination,  and aftercare of infected animals should be judiciously  practiced.   These consequences should be carefully considered as well as the potency or performance of recovering studs and pregnability of mares.  Regarding sexual transmission or infected semen, we are dependent on current research.  In the absence of a "yes" or a "no" I believe authorities should be cautious as to breeding and distribution of frozen semen collected in the course of this epizootic.  Sexual impairment, temporary sterility and semen quality are subject to continuing studies.

LRG-AF:  Because the American Federal Government did not understand the severity of the medical crisis it faced in 1872, there were no attempts to quarantine infected horses.  Australian authorities, however, have imposed a ban on the movement of all equines.  Based upon your studies of previous epizootics, what would you recommend to the Australian government?  How long do you believe the travelling ban/quarantine should be imposed?

Dr. Murnane:  I am not acquainted with conditions in Australia, therefore I defer suggesting any recommendations on quarantine in Australia.  I believe Australia and New Zealand have rarely, if ever, experienced equine influenza infection in their horse population.  Therefore their equine population may have no innate immunity to the disease.  Certainly animal (equine) movement in, into and out of affected areas must be rigidly enforced and appropriate vaccines employed.  I recommend Australian authorities contact the American Association of Equine Practitioners for some carefully considered and developed guidelines for control of equine respiratory diseases.

LRG-AF:  Given the amazing rate of infection exhibited in the 1800 epizootic, which spread from China to England, do you believe Australia is facing an equine disaster if stringent controls are not imposed and observed?

Dr. Murnane:  I believe Australia has experienced an equine disease disaster.  Successful recovery is dependent on enforcement of stringent practices.  Australia's horse population is a national treasure to be preserved by every reasonable, sometimes extreme, means of regulatory control.

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