Psychosocial response to animal disease: Australia's first outbreak of equine influenza

Melanie Taylor*, Kingsley Agho, Beverley Raphae, Garry Stevens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In late August 2007, an outbreak of Equine Influenza (EI) occurred in Australia. This was the nation's first outbreak and the disease spread rapidly, especially in areas of high horse density. A comprehensive disease control response was mounted swiftly; which included a nationwide horse standstill, use of disease control zoning, movement restrictions, quarantine, and a vaccination program. The disease was successfully contained within two eastern Australian States; New South Wales and Queensland. The last cases of EI were confirmed in December 2007 and an extensive program of monitoring and surveillance was undertaken to prove freedom from disease, which resulted in Australia being formally declared EI-free in December 2008. During the disease control phase attention was focused on the economic impacts of the disease. This chapter details a study conducted during the EI outbreak to assess the psychosocial ('human impacts') of EI across all industry sectors. Specifically, this chapter focuses on risk factors associated with high levels of adverse psychosocial response as assessed using three outcome measures; a standardized population measure of psychological distress (the K10), and reported levels of isolation and misery. In addition, respondent comments regarding suggestions for disease control response improvement are considered. Statistical analysis identified a core set of risk factors that were associated with all three psychosocial outcome measures. These were a high perception of vulnerability to EI, poor self-rated physical health status, low individual resilience, as measured by a sense of poor ability to adapt to change and poor ability to bounce back from hardship, and high reported emotional impact caused by EI. Further analyses of the risk factors associated with individual adverse psychosocial outcome measures are also reported. Discussion of results focuses on possible explanations for the research findings in the context of EI and suggestions for response improvements to address these; informed by comments and suggestions made by respondents during the outbreak. The results of this study help us to understand human psychosocial response to an infectious animal disease threat and the prolonged control measures needed to control, contain, and eradicate that disease. The findings identify many person-related risk factors for adverse psychosocial response that are likely to generalize to other emergency or adverse events, and therefore the findings have potential use and relevance not only for future animal disease outbreaks, but may also inform those involved with emergency response to disaster, terrorism, and human infectious disease outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Disease Outbreaks
Subtitle of host publicationPrevention, Detection and Control
EditorsAlbin Holmgren, Gerhard Borg
Place of PublicationHauppauge, NY
PublisherNova Science Publishers
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9781608762248
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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