NSW Owners Encouraged to Vaccinate Horses against Hendra

The New South Wales (NSW), Australia, Department of Primary Industries (DPI) encouraged horse owners to vaccinate their horses against the potentially deadly hendra virus in a press release issued last week.

“Vaccination is the single most effective way of reducing the risk of hendra virus infection in horses,” said NSW Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Therese Wright. “Vaccinating horses is an important measure to protect both horses and humans from the hendra virus. Horse owners should discuss the use of the Hendra vaccine with their private veterinarian.”

Dr. Jeremy McAnulty, director of health protection at NSW Health, said vaccination reduces the risk of people coming in contact with the virus via infectious horses.

“Vaccination is important, however as no vaccine is 100% effective, and because horses are susceptible to a range of viruses, it is important that vets and others in contact with sick horses continue to protect themselves by using gloves, masks and eye protection, and carefully wash their hands after contact with sick animals,” he said.

The hendra virus vaccine for horses was produced by a commercial manufacturer and released in November 2012. It is currently only available under a limited permit and must be administered by a veterinarian.

Wright said the uptake of vaccine in NSW has so far been slow.

“About 3,000 horses in NSW were vaccinated as of last month,” she said. “That level of uptake may increase with the confirmation last week of hendra virus as the cause of death of one horse (residing) west of Macksville on the NSW mid-north coast.”

In addition to vaccination, DPI advises horse owners to take precautions in areas with flying foxes, the type of fruit bat thought to transmit hendra virus to horses, to reduce the risk of their horses becoming infected:

  • Place feed and water containers under cover.
  • Do not place feed and water under trees, especially trees with fruit.
  • Do not use feed that could attract flying foxes, such as apples, carrots, or molasses.
  • Remove horses from paddocks where fruiting or flowering trees have temporarily attracted flying foxes.
  • If it is not possible to remove the horse from the paddock, tape off the area under the tree.

The Macksville property where hendra was confirmed earlier this month remains under quarantine and the DPI, Livestock Health and Pest Authority, and NSW Health are working with property owner. Three family members and a veterinarian were assessed by NSW Public Health officers for potential exposure to the infectious horse. None had any exposure requiring medical treatment.

There is one other horse, three dogs, and two cats on the property. Initial tests on these companion animals have come back negative for the hendra virus.

This is the first equine hendra case in NSW since 2011 when 10 horses died on eight properties between late June and late August. All properties affected in 2011 were in northeastern NSW, in the localities of Wollongbar, Macksville, Lismore, Mullumbimby, and Ballina.

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