Hendra research a matter of urgency, say vets

September 11, 2009

Research to help fight the deadly Hendra virus is a matter of urgency, says the Australian Veterinary Association.

"Funds are urgently needed from federal and state governments to target every stage of the disease and prevent further loss of life," said association president Dr Mark Lawrie.

"We simply can't wait before taking action. Serious money is needed for research, as well as getting the message out to horse owners, workers and veterinarians about how to lower the risk of catching the virus."

The association's call has coincided with a fresh outbreak of Hendra, in North Queensland, near Bowen.

One horse confirmed with the infection last week was put down, and there are reports another was euthanized late yesterday.

There are no horses remaining on the property, but the three surrounding properties, with 18 horses in total, have been placed under quarantine.

Dr Lawrie said an effective horse vaccine would prevent the virus from infecting other horses and people.

"A rapid on-site test for use in stalls and paddocks will help us know more quickly whether extra precautions need to be taken against Hendra.

"Besides vaccines and testing, we need look at how the virus is transmitted and find ways to effectively treat people who have been exposed to the virus.

"This disease is here to stay. We can't afford any more tragic deaths."

Dr Lawrie was referring to the death of Rockhampton vet Dr Alister Rodgers, who died after two weeks in a coma in hospital. He was exposed to an infected horse at a property near Cawarral. Dr Rodger's funeral was held yesterday.

Dr Rodgers' death followed the death a year ago of Dr Ben Cunneen, a vet similarly exposed to the virus through a sick horse in Brisbane.

The Alister Rodgers Memorial Hendra Virus Research Assistance Fund has been set up by the University of Queensland, where Dr Rodgers trained.

"The fund will raise money for research into Hendra virus and shows the commitment of the profession and the Rodgers family to finding answers," Dr Lawrie said.

"The association supports the memorial fund, but more will be needed to make a real difference.

"Serious government funding is needed to combat the disease. We want ongoing investment at government level to help us prevent any further deaths."