Hendra outbreak investigator named by minister

September 5, 2008

Leading veterinary epidemiologis Dr Nigel Perkins has been appointed to independently review the response of Queensland's Primary Industries department to the recent Hendra Virus cases.

The cases occurred at two locations - a Brisbane veterinary clinic and a property in northern Queensland. The Brisbane cases resulted in the death of veterinarian Ben Cunneen and the infection of another staff member, who is now recovering at home. It also resulted in the deaths of five horses.

Dr Perkins is a director of AusVet Animal Health Services and a co-ordinator of the disease surveillance programme for the Australian Biosecurity Co-operative Research Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease.

"Dr Perkins has extensive experience as a veterinary epidemiologist and expertise in disease control," said Primary Industries minister Tim Mulherin.

"Clearly he is well qualified to conduct this independent review of the cases at Redlands and Proserpine," he said.

"He has a sound track record in veterinary disease research and produced a professional report following his review of a 2006 Hendra case at Peachester, north of Brisbane.

"There's no doubt that Dr Perkins is well placed to ensure a quality review of the Department's handling of the recent Hendra cases at Redlands and Proserpine and to identify possible learnings."

Following the case of Hendra Virus at Peachester Dr Perkins conducted an independent review of the department's operating procedures and the appropriateness of its actions.

Outcomes of Dr Perkins' report were used as part of the department's continuous improvement approach to biosecurity.

"I am confident Dr Perkins will conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of the department's responses to these recent Biosecurity cases," Mr Mulherin said.

"Clearly Dr Perkins has the necessary qualifications to pinpoint any improvements that may be required in the handling of cases of this concerning disease."

The Australian Veterinary Association and the Queensland Horse Council were consulted in relation to the review's terms of reference.

"The terms of reference will enable Dr Perkins to identify how Hendra is evolving as a biosecurity concern as well as ways the department may be able to improve its response and services for horse owners," Mr Mulherin said.

"I've already committed to table this report in the parliament and Dr Perkins has been asked to complete his work by the end of October."

Hendra Review Terms Of Reference

  1. Identify possible learnings from the department's response to the equine Hendra virus cases at Redlands and Proserpine in July and August 2008; with regard to:
    • New scientific knowledge including any change in the virus or clinical signs
    • The department's standard operating procedures
    • Standards for handling of suspect Hendra virus cases in all equine - Guidelines for veterinarians (DPI&F website)
    • Appropriate veterinary hygiene standards for departmental officers
    • Applicable workplace health and safety requirements for departmental officers
    • Communication with private veterinarians, owners of affected animals and other stakeholders

  2. Make findings or recommendations in respect of the appropriateness of the department's actions, including adoption of recommendations arising from previous Hendra virus incidents.

  3. Engage with relevant stakeholders including the Australian Veterinary Association, the Queensland Horse Council and private veterinary practitioners.

  4. Present a report to the Director-General and the Managing Director, Biosecurity Queensland by no later than 31 October 2008.