New Hendra Virus case Confirmed in North Queensland

Biosecurity Queensland is managing a new hendra virus case on a property between Cairns and Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia, after a positive test result was received Sept. 5.

Queensland Chief Biosecurity Officer Jim Thompson, BVSc, MACVSc, said the property owner contacted a veterinarian on Sept. 3 after the horse became ill. The horse died before the vet arrived at the property.

"Biosecurity officers are currently assessing the situation but from preliminary information we understand there are 13 other horses on the property," Thompson said. "Tracing is a priority to determine what contact the infected horse may have had with other animals.

"Biosecurity Queensland officers have quarantined the property," he continued. "Restrictions will apply to moving horses and horse materials on and off the infected property, and the property will be quarantined for at least one month."

Hendra virus has been known to yield numerous clinical signs in horses including respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated body temperature (above 40°C, or 104°F), and elevated heart rate; however, authorities caution that hendra infection does not have specific signs.

The Australian Veterinary Association suggested that horse owners can reduce the risks of hendra virus in their horses by fencing off trees attractive to flying foxes (a type of fruit bat thought to spread hendra to horses), covering horse feed and water containers, and not feeding horses food that could appeal to flying foxes, such as fruit and vegetables.

Queensland Health's Public Health experts are assessing the situation to determine if any humans had contact with the infected horse. Queensland's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young, MB, BS, FRACMA, FFPH, reassured the community that transmission of the virus required close contact with bodily fluids of an infected horse.

"Queensland Health staff will continue to undertake contact tracing work to ensure all people potentially exposed to the infected horse have been identified," Young said. "Queensland Health stands ready to provide any assistance, counseling, information, testing or treatment that may be required."

Thompson said this latest case was the seventh hendra virus incident in Queensland this year.

"This year we have had cases in Townsville, Cairns, Ingham, and Mackay and two cases in Rockhampton; all of these cases have been finalized and quarantines lifted," he said.

Thompson said horse owners needed to remain vigilant in taking steps to reduce the risk of infection as hendra virus can occur year round but is more common during the cooler months.

"If a horse becomes sick, owners should contact their veterinarian immediately as happened in this case," he concluded.

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