Australian Vets Urge Precautions Against Hendra Virus

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is urging horse owners in south east Queensland to keep feed and water under cover and to stable horses overnight where possible, following the identification of Hendra virus in a horse on the Sunshine Coast.

AVA Queensland President, Dr Craig Pullen said that the disease is not highly contagious, and that the public health risk from the disease is limited to those who have exposure to horses' body fluids.

"This disease is rare and sporadic with only six cases being identified since a serious outbreak in 1994. However the disease can be transmitted to humans, and where possible we are urging people to take a few sensible precautions," Pullen said.

"Hendra virus causes symptoms of respiratory illness in horses, including respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge and elevated body temperature and heart rate. We encourage horse owners to stable horses overnight and call a veterinarian as soon as possible if they see symptoms of this nature in their animals."

Pullen said that veterinarians were on alert to submit samples for testing wherever they suspected the disease may have occurred and will be following stringent bio-security guidelines when handling horses with respiratory illnesses.

"We advise owners and handlers of horses to avoid coming into contact with any body fluids, and if they have any concerns, to get in contact with their veterinarian."

It is believed that fruit bats are the natural host of the virus, formerly known as equine morbillivirus or EMV. The virus can be lethal when transmitted to humans and horses.

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