High-risk hendra season approaches; vaccination urged

Hendra virus
Hendra virus

The riskiest time of the year is approaching in Australia for hendra infection, and officials in New South Wales are encouraging horse owners to talk about vaccination with their veterinarian.

“We are coming into the season when horses have been infected with hendra in New South Wales in the past, so now is the time to consider a vaccine booster for your horse,” said senior veterinary officer Paul Freeman, who is with the state’s Department of Primary Industries.

“Vaccination is the single most effective way of reducing the risk of hendra virus infection in horses,” he said of the recently developed inoculation.

“Vaccinating horses is also an important measure to prevent people being infected and potentially dying, which has happened following high-level exposure to body fluids from an infected horse.”

Freeman said last year officials confirmed hendra in four horses and one dog on four separate premises in the state: two properties near Macksville and two near Kempsey.

“Already this year, Biosecurity Queensland has dealt with a property in the Bundaberg area after positive test results in March; it was the first hendra virus incident in Queensland this year,” he said.

“The timing of this latest case in Queensland highlights the need for horse owners to remain vigilant in taking steps to reduce the risk of infection as hendra virus can occur year round.”

Hendra virus has been known to yield numerous clinical signs in horses including respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated body temperature, and elevated heart rate. However, authorities caution that hendra infection does not have specific signs.

The disease is zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted from horses to humans, and as proved deadly for several humans exposed to sick horses in the past. Of the seven known cases affecting people, four proved fatal.

Freeman said horses should be kept away from flowering and fruiting trees that are attractive to bats.

“Any fruit lying underneath trees should be picked up and disposed of before the horses are returned to the paddock,” he said.

“Do not place feed and water under trees and cover feed and water containers with a shelter so they cannot be contaminated from above.

“If a horse becomes sick, owners should contact their veterinarian immediately,” Freeman stressed. “People in contact with horses need to practice good biosecurity and personal hygiene measures even if a horse is vaccinated against hendra virus.”

Freeman noted that the vaccine has been released under special conditions and only trained veterinarians are accredited to order and administer it.

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