Hendra Virus Kills Horse on New South Wales' North Coast

Hendra Virus Kills Horse on New South Wales' North Coast

The hendra virus.

Photo: Courtesy CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory

New South Wales (NSW), Australia, Department of Primary Industries (DPI) veterinarians have confirmed hendra virus as the cause of death of one horse residing west of Murwillumbah on NSW's north coast.

“The property has been placed in quarantine by the local land services district veterinarian and the dead horse is being buried,” said NSW Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Therese Wright. “The 31-year-old stock horse gelding died overnight on Thursday this week after being found in a dam earlier that day and receiving treatment from a private veterinarian for very low body temperature.”

Wright said samples from the horse were sent for laboratory analysis and results received late June 20 confirmed hendra virus.

“The horse had been in a paddock on a rural acreage, in an area which has regular flying fox activity," she said. “Samples have been taken from five remaining horses on the property and the horses are under surveillance. Initial investigations indicate no horses have been moved off the property in recent weeks and there are no dogs or cats on the property.”

The deadly 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 virus is transmitted to horses from the flying fox, a type of Australian fruit bat.

Hendra virus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from horses to humans; several humans that contracted the virus from horses have died since hendra was discovered in 1994.

Wright noted that “three people who handled the horse, plus the veterinarian and an assistant, are being assessed and monitored by NSW Health."

Wright said this is the first hendra case in NSW this year.

“Last year hendra was confirmed in four horses and one dog on four separate properties on the NSW mid-north coast: two properties near Macksville and two properties near Kempsey,” Wright said. “Biosecurity Queensland has dealt with a case in Beenleigh earlier this month and in the Bundaberg area in March.”

The NSW DPI has been encouraging horse owners to see their veterinarians and work out their vaccination strategy against hendra.

“Winter is the season when horses have been infected with hendra in New South Wales in the past, so now is the time to get a vaccine booster for your horse,” Wright said. “Vaccination is the single most effective way of reducing the risk of hendra virus infection in horses.

She also stressed that 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."

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

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