Hendra infection in Australian horse is southernmost case to date

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A coloured transmission electron micrograph of the Hendra, virus. Photo: The Electron Microscopy Unit of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, part of the CSIRO science agency CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
A coloured transmission electron micrograph of the Hendra, virus. Photo: The Electron Microscopy Unit of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, part of the CSIRO science agency CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A horse has died in New South Wales after contracting the Hendra virus.

A Hendra case has never been recorded this far south in the Australian state before, and it is also the first case confirmed to the west of the Great Dividing Range.

The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries said the mare, who lived on a property near Scone in the Upper Hunter Valley, was unvaccinated. The Upper Hunter Valley is internationally known for its thoroughbred breeding industry.

The horse developed neurological signs on Friday, June 7, three days after being confined to a yard.
She was euthanised by her owners after becoming unresponsive.

As the horse was unvaccinated and had a sudden onset of neurological signs, the owners contacted the animal diseases hotline.

A district veterinarian from Hunter Local Lands Services visited the property on Sunday, June 9, to collect samples for Hendra virus testing.

The bat-borne viral infection was confirmed by the state veterinary laboratory at Menangle three days later.

No other horses on the property are said to be showing any signs of ill health. Their health will be monitored daily.

State health officers are undertaking risk assessments of people who had varying degrees of contact with the affected horse to determine their risk. People can contract the virus if in close contact with the bodily fluids of infected horses.

Tracing of horse movements in the previous 16 days will be undertaken and a biosecurity order is in place to control the movement of animals and people on and off the property.

Hendra virus infection is notifiable in New South Wales under the state’s Biosecurity Act.

Most cases in NSW have been on the north coast, with a case at Kempsey in 2013 being the most southern case before the current infection.

There have been 22 horse deaths in New South Wales as a result of Hendra virus on 20 properties since the first case in the state in 2006.

Most recorded cases in horses are further north, in Queensland.

The last recorded Hendra case in New South Wales was in an unvaccinated horse near Tweed Heads, close to the Queensland border, in September last year.

Hendra, first identified in 1994, is carried by fruit bats.

Horses can contract the virus if they eat grass or feed contaminated by bat urine or saliva.

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