Poor pasture increases risk of Hendra virus infections

Professor Wayne Bryden
Professor Bryden

Hungry horses could be more susceptible to contracting the dangerous Hendra virus, the findings of a preliminary study into the effect of pasture availability on infection rates reveal.

The results from the joint study by the University of Queensland and Bahrinna Thoroughbred Services analysed local pasture growth and quality against the timing and location of Hendra virus outbreaks in New South Wales and southeast Queensland during 2011.

Professor of animal science at UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, Wayne Bryden, presented the research at the Australasian Equine Science Symposium on the Gold Coast this week.

“Hendra virus infections in 2011 coincided with periods of poor pasture growth caused by extended periods of frost and rain and so horses were likely to have been hungry at the time of infection,” Bryden said.

“A hungry horse is more likely to consume bat-related material found on pastures.

“And because a horse’s nutrient intake is significantly reduced due to poor pasture quality and availability, its immune system is possibly also compromised, thereby setting the scene for an infection.”

Bryden said further work was required to understand the risk factors involved with Hendra virus infections, but that changes to horse management, such as providing supplementary feeding during poor pasture growth periods, may be one preventative strategy.

Leading equine experts from Australia and New Zealand are presenting findings from more than 40 research projects at the 4th Australasian Equine Science Symposium, which ends today.

Research outcomes being presented include innovative pain-relief therapies, obesity and insulin resistance, effective electrolyte and water replacement strategies for racehorses, music for reducing stress of stabled yearlings, biological control of intestinal nematodes and the role of caterpillars in causing abortion in horses.

The biennial symposium, which is chaired by Bryden, arose from discussions with equine industry experts and scientists in 2006. The symposium is in response to the need for a forum to exchange research findings and ideas within the industry.


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