Australian Horse Owners Urged to Vaccinate against Hendra

Queensland, Australia, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry Minister John McVeigh urged horse owners to protect themselves and their horses from hendra virus by vaccination in a May 28 statement.

“I’m urging all horse owners to vaccinate as we head towards the peak winter risk period for hendra,” McVeigh said. “Vaccination is the best way to reduce the risk of hendra infection. Sadly, human infection and deaths have occurred from high-level exposure to body fluids from infected horses. By vaccinating, owners aren’t just protecting their horses, they’re also protecting themselves, their family, and employees.

“I strongly advise horse owners to discuss vaccination with their vet,” he said.

McVeigh said while recent data showed the vaccine offered protection for up to six months, people in contact with horses still needed to use common sense and follow hygiene practices.

“The hendra virus vaccine is only for hendra virus and horses can carry other diseases,” he said. “Anyone handling sick horses should take steps to protect themselves using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).”

The vaccine manufacturer, Zoetis Australia, joined the McVeigh in his call for increased vigilance and vaccination during the hendra virus peak season.

“This vaccine is crucial in breaking the hendra virus cycle of transmission from flying foxes to horses and then to humans,” Stephanie Armstrong, BVSc, MANZCVS, of Zoetis Australia said. “By minimising the risk of hendra virus infection in horses, we can all help protect Queensland horse owners, handlers, veterinarians and the broader community from this potentially fatal disease.”

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.

Last year, the Newman Government implemented its $1 million PPE rebate program to support veterinarians when dealing with suspected Hendra virus cases. The program provides a rebate to Queensland vets on eligible equipment used when dealing with suspect horses.

McVeigh encouraged horse owners and veterinarians to review disease protocols and take all steps to reduce infection risks.

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