AVA: Vaccinate Australian Horses against Hendra Now

AVA: Vaccinate Australian Horses against Hendra Now

Anthony said veterinarians are at risk when they treat a sick horse that could have hendra and hasn’t been vaccinated.

Following the latest equine hendra case in Gladstone, Queensland, Australia, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) says that all owners should have their horses vaccinated to prevent the deadly virus.

“It’s not enough to cross your fingers when it comes to the hendra virus," said Equine Veterinarians Australia President Nathan Anthony, BVSc (Hons) MANZCVSc. "Hendra kills horses and it kills people. Every death from hendra virus is now preventable.

“Hendra virus infection in horses can happen anywhere, at any time," he continued. "If horse owners want guaranteed veterinary care when their horses get sick then they must get them vaccinated. This is particularly the case in Queensland and northern New South Wales where hendra cases have been recorded."

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. Thus, Anthony said veterinarians are at risk when they treat a sick horse that could have hendra and hasn’t been vaccinated.

"It’s got to the point where some vets won’t treat a sick unvaccinated horse," he said. "All equine hospitals in Queensland have a strict policy that unvaccinated sick horses with a fever cannot be admitted to hospital without hendra virus exclusion testing."

Test results can take 24 to 48 hours, which results in life-threatening delays in treatment.

“Hendra virus has a high human death rate, no cure, and no human vaccine," Anthony said. "An outbreak of hendra virus can also be financially, professionally, emotionally, and psychologically damaging as well as potentially life-threatening for those in contact with the horse.”

Horse owners and those who work in the horse industry are encouraged to take immediate action if they haven’t had their horses vaccinated and contact their local veterinarian.

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