New Hendra Case Confirmed on Queensland's Gold Coast

New Hendra Case Confirmed on Queensland's Gold Coast

The hendra virus

Photo: Courtesy CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory

Australian animal health officials have confirmed a new case of hendra virus in a horse residing on Queensland's Gold Coast, according to a press release issued July 6.

Biosecurity Queensland Chief Veterinary Officer Rick Symons, BVSc, MBA, PhD, said one unvaccinated horse was euthanized July 5 after becoming unwell the previous day (July 4).

"There are no other horses on the property, but Biosecurity Queensland has quarantined it to address the risk of environmental contamination," Symons said. "Tracing and risk assessments are being undertaken on any animals that have been on or off the property, as well as any neighboring animals that may have had contact with the infected horse. While under quarantine, restrictions will apply to moving horses and horse materials on and off the property."

Acting Chief Health Officer Stephen Lambert, MBBS, PhD, said seven people were being assessed for exposure to the horse.

"We will continue to contact trace to ensure no one else requires treatment," Lambert said.

Symons said this was the fourth case of hendra virus in Queensland this year.

"Vaccination is the single most effective way of reducing the risk of hendra virus infection in horses," he relayed. "It is recommended that horse owners speak to their veterinarian about the option of vaccinating their horse against hendra virus."

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.

Biosecurity Queensland recommends owner take steps to reduce horses' risk of contracting the virus:

  • Talk to your veterinarian about the option of vaccinating your horse against hendra virus.
  • Horse feed and water containers should be removed from under trees. If possible, place feed and water containers under a shelter.
  • Owners should inspect and identify flowering/fruiting trees on their property. Horses should be removed from paddocks where flowering/fruiting trees are attracting flying foxes. Horses should be returned only after the trees have stopped flowering/fruiting and the flying foxes have gone. If horses cannot be removed from the paddock, consider fencing (temporary or permanent) to restrict access to flowering/ fruiting trees. Clean up any fruit debris underneath the trees before returning horses.
  • If it is not possible to remove horses from paddocks, try to temporarily remove your horses during times of peak flying fox activity (usually at dusk and during the night).
  • Ensure that sick horses are isolated from other horses, people, and animals until a veterinarian's opinion is obtained.
  • If there is more than one horse on your property, handle healthy horses first, and then only handle sick horses after taking appropriate precautions.
  • Make sure gear exposed to any body fluids from horses—including halters, lead ropes, and twitches—is cleaned and disinfected before it is used on another horse. Talk to your veterinarian about which cleaning agents and disinfectants to use.
  • When cleaning contaminated equipment from a sick horse, wear gloves, cover any cuts or grazes, and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • It is essential that horse owners practice good biosecurity and not travel with, work on, or take sick horses to other properties or equestrian events.
  • Do not allow visiting horse professionals to work with or on sick horses.
  • Seek veterinary advice before bringing any sick horse onto your property.
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