A four-year-old Arab cross horse who tested positive for the dangerous Hendra virus in Australia has been euthanised.
The horse, which had not been vaccinated against the virus, was located in New South Wales at Tweed Heads, just south of the Queensland border.
The New South Wales Department of Primary Industry urged horse owners to remain vigilant over the bat-borne virus.
The case was diagnosed by a private veterinarian who is confirmed to have been wearing personal protective equipment at the time.
The state’s chief veterinary officer, Dr Sarah Britton, said the property has been placed under movement restrictions.
It was the first confirmed case of Hendra virus in the state this year, she said.
“Samples from the horse were sent by a private veterinarian for laboratory analysis to Queensland’s Biosecurity Sciences Laboratory at Coopers Plains and initial test results confirmed Hendra virus,” she said.
“The four-year-old Arab cross was initially noticed by the owner to be lethargic and not eating properly. It deteriorated the next day and was euthanised by a private veterinarian.”
Dr Britton said vaccination was the most effective way to help manage Hendra virus disease.
“Vaccination of horses provides a public health and work health and safety benefit by reducing the risk of Hendra transmission to humans and other susceptible animals,” she said.
“Whenever Hendra infection is suspected, even in vaccinated horses, appropriate biosecurity precautions, including personal protective equipment, should be used.
“Horse owners are encouraged to discuss the option of Hendra vaccination of their horse with their veterinarian.
“Horses should also be kept away from flowering and fruiting trees that are attractive to bats.
“Do not place feed and water under trees and cover feed and water containers with a shelter so they cannot be contaminated from above.”
Australian Veterinary Association spokesman Dr Ben Poole said it was critical that horses in high-risk Hendra areas be vaccinated against Hendra virus.
“It provides a horse health and welfare benefit, and a public health benefit,” he said.
“This latest death is an unfortunate reminder of an unnecessary death of another horse, highlighting that the Hendra virus can occur at any time of the year and is not predictable.”
Dr Poole said testing for the disease takes time and delays possible life-saving therapies.
“That is why vaccination is so important, because a vaccinated horse has an extremely low risk of having Hendra virus infection.
“Sadly, another horse has died from this disease despite there being a fully registered vaccine available.
“When horses are infected with Hendra virus, people are potentially and unnecessarily exposed to the virus,” he said, referring to fact that the virus can infect people exposed to the bodily fluids of infected horses.
“Vaccination is the only way to ensure high standards of horse health and welfare whilst also reducing the risk to veterinarians, horse handlers and owners.”
He said the vaccine, introduced in 2012, remained the most effective way to manage the Hendra virus and is fully registered with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.
“Vaccination of horses provides a public health and workplace health and safety benefit by reducing the risk of Hendra virus transmission to humans and other susceptible animals and helps to ensure high standards of animal health and welfare.”