Horses Potentially Exposed to Hendra Tracked, Tested

Veterinarians with Biosecurity Queensland have taken samples from 25 horses at a Cawarral horse facility to confirm any further cases of Hendra virus following the deaths of three horses at the property since July 28. The most recent death, which occurred Aug. 8, has been confirmed as a Hendra virus case.

Investigators have also tracked the 11 horses that had left the property. These horses went to eight locations: seven in Queensland (Darling Downs, Sunshine Coast hinterland, Cawarral area), and one in New South Wales (near Manilla).

The horses are in isolation and under movement controls. All horses have been tested to exclude the possibility of any further infection and are reported as being healthy. Initial results from the sampling are expected later today (Thursday).

The virus has only been reported in Australia. Fruit bats (known as flying foxes in Australia) indigenous to the continent appear to be its natural host. Typical equine clinical signs of Hendra include respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated heart rate, and increased body temperature. Some horses display neurologic signs, such as head-pressing or twitching, while others might appear to be colicky.

In past cases, human infections have occurred from handling infected horses (ill horses and during autopsies), so great care should be taken in regard to personal protective measures. There is no evidence of human-to-human spread or human-to-horse spread of Hendra virus.

Biosecurity Queensland is establishing a community information point at the Cawarral Community Hall where vets, horse owners and other members of the community can get information from experienced veterinarians and Biosecurity Officers. The Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries mobile office is due to arrive in Rockhampton tomorrow (Friday 14 August) and will have available the latest information and advice on Hendra virus. People will also be able to update their horse property registrations and get more advice on good on-farm biosecurity practices.

The original Cawarral property and the neighboring property have been placed under quarantine. Properties that received horses from the Cawarral property have movement restrictions in place. Managing Hendra virus does not involve movement restrictions for the general horse population. Movement of horses is only restricted for properties under quarantine for Hendra virus.

Horse events are not affected by the current Hendra virus incident and can continue without restriction. It is recommended that event organizers and participants follow good biosecurity guidelines. Event organizers are recommended to continue to:

  • collect information on all horses attending events
  • maintain strict biosecurity at events
  • not allow sick horses to attend events

Visitors to horse properties should avoid unnecessary contact with horses or equipment that has had contact with horses. They should also observe good biosecurity measures to help stop the potential spread of any disease. Non-essential vehicles and visitors to horse properties should be prevented from entering areas of the premises that hold horses.

Equine dentists, farriers, and other horse health workers should only bring essential equipment onto the site. Equipment should be cleaned and disinfected between horses thoroughly and then be cleaned and disinfected at the end of the day. Basic decontamination procedures should be observed before and after contact with a horse, such as washing all exposed skin with soap and water. Clean clothing should be worn, and soiled clothes changed before handling other horses.

If anyone suspects a case of Hendra virus, please contact Biosecurity Queensland immediately at 13 25 23 or contact the Emergency Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

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