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The first outbreak of equine flu in South Africa for more than 15 years has brought racing in and around Cape Town to a grinding halt.

The virus reared its head on Tuesday (9 December) at Milnerton Training Centre in Cape Town, which is home to more than 1,000 Thoroughbreds, and has been placed under strict quarantine.

Officials from the Jockey Club of Southern Africa are hoping that the virus has been contained, although horses have also been reported to be displaying symptoms at another training centre in Port Elizabeth.

Unlike in the UK, horses in South Africa don’t have to be vaccinated against the virus before being allowed to race or compete, and as a result few have protection against the virulent infection.

Tony Barnes, chief executive of the Jockey Club of Southern Africa, told HHO: “We stopped the compulsory vaccination of thoroughbreds in 2001 for a number of reasons, including the fact that there had been no cases of equine flu in South Africa for more than 10 years. We believed that our governmental quarantine facilities and regulations would preclude the importation of the virus again.”

However, the Jockey Club has stated that an imported horse suffering from the highly contagious virus is the most likely cause of the outbreak.

The last outbreak of equine flu in South Africa was in 1986 and shut down the entire industry for a period of three months.

Equine flu has an incubation period of five days before any symptoms are displayed so the next 48 hours are expected to be crucial in establishing how widespread the outbreak has become.