Minister welcomes Hendra report

December 7, 2008

Queensland's Primary Industries department will continue to work with Queensland Health and industry bodies on ways to efficiently distribute updated guidelines and information about the risks of Hendra virus.

Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin was commenting on the release of an independent review into his department's responses to the Hendra cases in Redlands and Proserpine.

The 105-page report by Dr Nigel Perkins, a veterinary epidemiologist with extensive experience in disease control, described the department's response as effective.

Mr Mulherin told Queensland's parliament: "At the outset I acknowledge the tragic consequences of these Hendra cases.

"A young veterinarian died, a vet nurse became seriously ill, and at least eight horses succumbed to the disease or were euthanised," he said.

Both people who contracted Hendra were from the Redlands Veterinary Clinic. The veterinarian, Ben Cunneen, died on August 20. The nurse spent several weeks in intensive care in a Brisbane hospital and was released on August 19.

The first horse at the Redlands Veterinary Clinic, known to die from Hendra, was euthanised on June 26. Diagnostic tests later confirmed Hendra. The department was notified about unusual deaths at Redlands Veterinary Clinic on 7 July and declared quarantine and visited the site on the same day.

The owner at Proserpine first contacted a vet about a sick horse on July 10 and it died July 11. The department advised the vet to take samples for testing and a positive Hendra result was reported on the evening of 14 July. An incident response was initiated that evening and department staff were on site on July 15.

Mulherin said he was pleased Dr Perkins found that the department's response was managed appropriately, consistent with the nationally approved AUSVETPlan, and the department's published procedures.

"When you consider the seriousness of the incidents and the very real risks to those staff who had to work in close contact with the horses on the affected premises, I believe that the staff involved did a tremendous job.

"I also want to praise the private vets and associated staff who worked with same risks," he said.

Dr Perkins described the department's initial actions as "rapid and effective" and the response as "successful".

However, it also identified several areas where improvements could be made.

Mulherin said: "Perhaps the most significant finding concerns very important information for all people involved with horses.

"People working with horses need to be more aware of the potential risks associated with hendra virus and handling of horses.

"The report indicates that people involved in procedures exposing them to horse fluids or tissue, perhaps even in apparently healthy horses, may require higher levels of biosecurity and protective clothing and equipment. This is an area that requires further investigation," he said.

Mulherin said his department would continue to work with Queensland Health and industry bodies on ways to communicate more efficiently information about the risks and update the various guidelines as new information comes to hand.