Hendra Virus Survey Highlights Horse Owner Behavior

Hendra Virus Survey Highlights Horse Owner Behavior

A relatively small number of horse owners indicated they were undertaking measures to reduce interactions between their horses and flying foxes.

Photo: Justin Welbergen

Results from a horse owner survey in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia, show that while most perceive hendra virus as a risk, many are not taking precautions to protect themselves or their horses from potentially deadly infection.

Biosecurity Queensland’s Chief Veterinary Officer Rick Symons, BVSc, MBA, PhD, said the survey, conducted in early 2012, assessed how well horse owners understood hendra virus and to what level they had put in place practices to minimize the risk of infection.

"The survey was undertaken soon after the unprecedented 18 hendra virus incidents in 2011, which occurred across Queensland and New South Wales and prior to the vaccine for horses being introduced," Symons said. "The survey is the first of its kind in terms of scope and scale and aimed to provide a unique insight into the human side of hendra virus risk management."

Symons said a total of 1,850 people participated in the survey.

"Results from the survey identified inconsistent awareness about hendra virus as well as inconsistency in the adoption of practices that can help protect owners and their horses," he said. "Disconcertingly, a relatively small number of horse owners indicated they were undertaking measures to reduce interactions between their horses and flying foxes (a type of Australian fruit bat known to transmit hendra to horses).

"This includes measures such as covering food and water containers, removing horses from areas where flying foxes feed, and where possible stabling horses at night," he continued. "These practices are important in reducing the risk of hendra virus infection and other diseases that horses may contract—people need to be vigilant in taking appropriate hygiene and biosecurity measures when working with horses.

"While the hendra virus vaccine has been a significant step forward in breaking the virus cycle, it should not replace basic biosecurity measures that keep horses away from flying foxes," he stressed.

Symons said a pleasing result was that nearly two-thirds of respondents had seen a government hendra virus information pack or guidelines and regarded the information as useful in helping them to minimize hendra virus risks.

"While people are accessing information, the survey results will help us in further refining the details provided to horse owners and industry about hendra virus to ensure people can make informed decisions about how to protect themselves and their horses," he said.

The survey was an initiative of, and funded by, Biosecurity Queensland in partnership with New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and the University of Western Sydney. The full survey results are available online

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