WHEN TASMANIA’S Chief Veterinary Officer announced the presence of hydatid infection in a cow and dog in NE Tasmania, it was bound to open a can of worms!

Whilst the detection of a single hydatid cyst in a cow or sheep might not be too dramatic, the fact that it was found in Tasmanian, born & bred animal suggested that there could have been a breakdown in the state border quarantine measures to keep Tasmania hydatid-free.

In 1996 the State Government declared Tasmania provisionally free of hydatid disease based on no new infections in humans, dogs or grazing livestock for several years. This 1996 declaration was despite the fact that DPIWE had no policy in place to prevent mainland dogs, particularly rural working dogs from being formally screened for recent hydatids treatment prior to embarkation on the Trans-Strait ferry or by air.

After significant public pressure, travelling dog owners were required to show proof of treatment for hydatids but it seems this quarantine regulation hasn’t been enforced by Quarantine Tasmania.

Several callers to Tim Cox’s ABC-radio Morning program on Monday 5 June — the day after the hydatid story was published in the Sunday Tasmanian — gave their personal experiences.

Tim read one email from Meg: ‘Four years ago, our son who had been jackerooing for two years bought his two sheepdogs to the state before he left NSW, he had them wormed and thoroughly checked by a vet and papers to certify this.  The TT-Line had requested that he do this and he was told officers in Tasmania would want to see the paperwork when he arrived here.

However, no one asked to see the vet certification when he arrived.  What also concerned us at the time, was that on the boat he met a fellow Tasmanian jackeroo, also returning with two dogs, who had not wormed his dogs and did not have any paperwork.  He also was not approached by anyone to show evidence of a veterinary check.

Perhaps this was just an oversight on that particular day …’

Well no, there were other callers who confirmed similar experiences — they were all blowing the whistle on an inadequate quarantine and biosecurity system at Tasmanian’s borders.

A serious worry to David Llewellyn

Tim Cox said; “Also, says Heather — on hydatids — who lives at South Rianna: ‘We entered the Spirit of Tasmania, and had also gone to the trouble of worming and treating our dog.  We had to go through a particular lane because we had the dog with us when we were disembarking, and we were also not asked for any proof that we had treated our dog.’

“This was in 2003, I don’t know if Rod Andrewartha is still listening, but you might be a bit worried about that Rod.”

This must have come as a serious worry to born-again Minister for Primary Industries Minister, David Llewellyn, a politician who has really tried to improve the level of resources applied to Tasmania’s quarantine services. David excused it as ‘a slip up’, giving the impression it wasn’t systemic. Well, the number of reports that have come to light since Sunday’s newspaper article should tell the Minister that isn’t tenable.

The consequences of a poorly enforced quarantine measure like this one can take a very long time before you actually detect the breakdown because the detection relies on tracing back diseased livestock back to their home property. But if this lapse has occurred on more than one occasion then we can expect to see further detections of hydatid cysts in slaughtered livestock.

Whilst humans are ONLY exposed to this disease risk through direct contact with infected dogs, the risk of hydatid infection re-establishing here by infected dogs from the mainland — especially through sheep dogs, hunters dogs and rural working dogs — cannot be dismissed

A significant issue to consider here is the strain of hydatids involved — if this detection is a sheep-dog strain from the mainland then it will cycle accordingly; if it is the sylvatic or wild strain that can also infect kangaroo and wallaby, it would have more serious control implications. This incident needs a full and thorough investigation by DPIW and the animal health/veterinary staff.

In bigger picture of Tasmania’s Biosecurity and Border Quarantine this incident has important implications. Victoria and southern Australia has organisms — big and small — that we don’t want or need here.

By David Obendorf 

Whilst the detection of a single hydatid cyst in a cow or sheep might not be too dramatic, the fact that it was found in Tasmanian, born & bred animal suggested that there could have been a breakdown in the state border quarantine measures to keep Tasmania hydatid-free.