Hendra threat prompts government alert

September 12, 2009

The Queensland government has published an alert, saying those dealing with horses need to adopt sound hygiene and biosecurity measures as "routine work practice".

The document outlines strategies aimed at minimising the risk of the lethal Hendra virus infecting people.

It follows the death in early September of Rockhampton vet Dr Alister Rodgers, who contracted the disease while treating a sick horse.

"Hendra virus outbreaks are rare. However, the potential seriousness of the disease for both humans and horses requires that workplace health and safety measures to prevent infection should be implemented at workplaces where there is occupational contact with horses," the government said.

"Infected horses may shed Hendra virus before showing clinical signs of illness, and by the time a horse becomes ill the virus may be widespread in the horse's body and body fluids.

"It is therefore important that sound hygiene and biosecurity (animal disease control) measures are adopted as a routine work practice for all horse contact."

The virus is carried by native bats, but can be passed to horses. People can catch the virus from the body fluids of sick horses.

"Hendra virus requires careful risk management. You should consider developing a plan for responding to a suspect, highly suspect or confirmed case of Hendra virus at your workplace, including how you will minimise the risk to yourself, your workers and others such as visiting horse practitioners (farriers, etc.). You should then train your workers in the implementation of the plan."

It said those dealing with horses should consider the following measures: