Queensland authorities have reported the first Hendra case in a horse for 2013.
A property near Mackay has been quarantined after the horse returned a positive test for the potentially deadly bat-borne virus.
Queensland’s chief veterinary officer, Dr Rick Symons, said the horse had died on the property after becoming unwell early this week.
“There are other horses on the property and we will be working to determine what contact the infected horse had with other animals. Testing and monitoring will then be undertaken over the next month.
“While under quarantine, restrictions will apply to moving horses and horse materials on and off the infected property.”
Staff from the Department of Health’s Public Health Unit in Townsville will interview all people in contact with the horse, to determine whether any testing or treatment is required.
These staff will undertake contact tracing work to ensure all people potentially exposed to the sick horse have been identified.
Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young reassured the community that transmission of the virus required close contact with body fluids of the sick horse.
“There is no evidence the virus can be passed directly from flying foxes to humans, from the environment to humans, from humans to horses, or can be transmitted by airborne droplets,” Young said.
Symons said: “Even though the majority of cases tend to occur in the cooler months between July and September, we have consistently said that Hendra virus infection can occur throughout the year.
“It is therefore important for horse owners to take steps to protect themselves and their animals year round.”
Symons urged horse owners to discuss the use of the new Hendra horse vaccine with their veterinarian.
The case was reported less than a week after confirmation that samples taken from dead fruit bats in parklands near Adelaide, South Australia, tested positive to the virus.
Cases of Hendra in horses and humans have never been reported outside Queensland and New South Wales. Of the seven known cases of Hendra in humans, all resulting from transmission from the bodily fluids of infected horses, four have proved fatal.
Reducing the risk of Hendra virus infection:
- A Hendra virus vaccine is available for horses. It is recommended horse owners discuss with their veterinarian whether vaccinating their horses is appropriate.
- Horse feed and water containers should be removed from under trees. If possible, place feed and water containers under a shelter.
- Owners should inspect and identify flowering/fruiting trees on their property. Horses should be removed from paddocks where flowering/fruiting trees are attracting flying foxes. Horses should be returned only after the trees have stopped flowering/fruiting and the flying foxes have gone. If horses cannot be removed from the paddock, consider fencing (temporary or permanent) to restrict access to flowering/ fruiting trees. Clean up any fruit debris underneath the trees before returning horses.
- If it is not possible to remove horses from paddocks, try to temporarily remove your horses during times of peak flying fox activity (usually at dusk and during the night).
- Ensure that sick horses are isolated from other horses, people and animals until a veterinarian’s opinion is obtained.
- If there is more than one horse on your property, handle unaffected horses first and then only handle sick horses after taking appropriate precautions.
- Make sure gear exposed to any body fluids from horses is cleaned and disinfected before it is used on another horse. This includes halters, lead ropes and twitches. Talk to your veterinarian about which cleaning agents and disinfectants to use.
- When cleaning contaminated equipment from a sick horse, wear gloves, cover any cuts or grazes and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
- It is essential that horse owners practise good biosecurity and not travel with, work on or take sick horses to other properties or equestrian events.
- Do not allow visiting horse practitioners (e.g. farriers) to work on sick horses.
- Seek veterinary advice before bringing any sick horse onto your property.