State vets to meet over horse lyssavirus case

A microbat: Big eared townsend bat (Corynorhinus townsendii).
A microbat: Big eared townsend bat (Corynorhinus townsendii). © BLM

Chief veterinary officers from all Australian states are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the first case of the bat-borne lyssavirus in a horse, which resulted in the animal’s death last week.

Testing confirmed the horse, who was euthanized, had contracted the virus. A horse who died on the property a fortnight earlier had shown similar neurological signs, but it is now too late to test for the virus, which is related to rabies.

Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said eight people had been identified as having contact with the two sick horses.

“As a result of this contact tracing, seven people have been offered a course of treatment which prevents Lyssavirus in humans,” Young said.

“The recommended course of treatment must be administered in a timely manner and comprises rabies immunoglobulin and rabies vaccine,” Young said.

“One other person was deemed to have had such a low exposure to the horse that preventative treatment was not required.”

There was no test available for lyssavirus before symptoms appeared, she said.

News of the meeting of state vets came as the Australia Veterinary Association warned that the confirmation of the disease in a horse could increase the risk to Australian vets and horse owners.

“There are a lot of unknowns at this point,” association spokesman Dr Chris Reardon said.

“In the past, people have become infected with the deadly lyssavirus by being scratched or bitten by a flying fox or micro-bat, and we don’t know whether a horse could infect a human or not.

“We’ll be very keen to hear more information as the Queensland Government investigates this case.”

Just three known cases of lyssavirus have occurred in humans. All proved fatal.

Biosecurity Queensland said it was continuing its investigation into the case in Allora on Queensland’s Southern Downs.

Chief biosecurity officer Jim Thompson said staff had been on the property over the weekend assessing the situation. There are other companion animals remaining on the property, including horses.

“None of the remaining animals have shown any signs of unusual behaviour or illness recently,” Thompson said.

“Officers have also started assessing the location of microbat and other bat colonies, including flying foxes, in the area.

“Microbats, including a dead bat, had been observed on the property, but not in close association with the horses.”

All Australian bat species are considered susceptible to the virus, he said.

“Owners are advised to take all reasonable steps to keep their animals away from bats. It is also important to ensure sound hygiene and biosecurity measures are routinely adopted for all contact with horses, their blood and body fluids and associated equipment.”

Thompson said Tuesday’s meeting of chief veterinary officers from each state would be assessing the situation.

“As we haven’t seen this disease in horses before, this group will provide guidance and advice on further disease management requirements including quarantine restrictions for the property, and other measures that may need to be put in place.”

Reardon, of the Australian Veterinary Association, also urged horse owners to stay away from flying foxes as a precaution.

“Don’t handle them under any circumstances unless you’ve been vaccinated.

“Horse owners need to call their vet straight away if they notice any signs of illness, and keep sick horses away from people and other animals. Making sure you wash your hands and maintain good hygiene around sick horses is always a good idea, and these measures will be helpful in preventing infection from a sick horse.

“Australian bat lyssavirus is similar to rabies, but a completely different virus. The rabies vaccine works against lyssavirus because of the similarity between the two,” he said.


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