Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Perceptions of vulnerability to a future outbreak: a study of horse managers affected by the first Australian equine influenza outbreak

Kathrin Schemann1, Simon M Firestone12, Melanie R Taylor3*, Jenny-Ann LML Toribio1, Michael P Ward1 and Navneet K Dhand1

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Veterinary Science, The University of Sydney, Camden, NSW 2570, Australia

2 Faculty of Veterinary Science, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC 3010, Australia

3 School of Medicine, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, NSW 2571, Australia

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BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9:152  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-9-152

Published: 31 July 2013



A growing body of work shows the benefits of applying social cognitive behavioural theory to investigate infection control and biosecurity practices. Protection motivation theory has been used to predict protective health behaviours. The theory outlines that a perception of a lack of vulnerability to a disease contributes to a reduced threat appraisal, which results in poorer motivation, and is linked to poorer compliance with advised health protective behaviours. This study, conducted following the first-ever outbreak of equine influenza in Australia in 2007, identified factors associated with horse managers’ perceived vulnerability to a future equine influenza outbreak.


Of the 200 respondents, 31.9% perceived themselves to be very vulnerable, 36.6% vulnerable and 31.4% not vulnerable to a future outbreak of equine influenza. Multivariable logistic regression modelling revealed that managers involved in horse racing and those on rural horse premises perceived themselves to have low levels of vulnerability. Managers of horse premises that experienced infection in their horses in 2007 and those seeking infection control information from specific sources reported increased levels of perceived vulnerability to a future outbreak.


Different groups across the horse industry perceived differing levels of vulnerability to a future outbreak. Increased vulnerability contributes to favourable infection control behaviour and hence these findings are important for understanding uptake of recommended infection control measures. Future biosecurity communication strategies should be delivered through information sources suitable for the horse racing and rural sectors.

Equine influenza; Perceived vulnerability; Protection motivation theory; Infection control; Biosecurity; Emergency animal disease