Hendra Virus Vaccine Nearing Completion in Australia

Scientists at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have reached the final stages of developing a vaccine designed to protect horses against the deadly zoonotic Hendra virus (HeV). The announcement came last week during the 2011 Australian Veterinary Conference.

"The development of the equine vaccine for Hendra virus will mean that working with horses will be much safer," said Chris Reardon, BVSc(Hons), BSc(Hons), MACVSc, CMAVA, president of Equine Veterinarians Australia. "At present, especially in Queensland and northern New South Wales, (when) performing moderate- to high-risk procedures on horses such as dentals, respiratory endoscopic examinations, and necropsies, the transmission of HeV is a possibly."

Having a vaccine, she added, means these procedures can be carried out in a safer manner. Hendra virus is responsible for four human deaths--including a veterinarian who contracted the virus from an equine patient--since it was identified in the 1990s.

"The development of the vaccine goes back more than 10 years to shortly after CSIRO scientists first isolated the virus following the first outbreak of the disease in Hendra, Queensland (in 1994-95)," Reardon explained. "It has been slow, painstaking, and high-risk work, and the credit is due to many people who've worked on this since 1994."

Reardon said that final challenge and safety testing still need to be carried out on the vaccine; however, barring complications, Australian consumers could see the inoculation available for use within a few years.

"Equine Veterinarians Australia congratulates Dr. Deb Middleton and her colleagues at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory for the work that they have done in the development of this breakthrough," Reardon concluded. "I remind all people in the horse industry to continue to practice good personal hygiene--such as washing hands with soap after handling horses--and I would encourage all veterinarians to use appropriate personal protective equipment (such as gloves, gowns, etc.) when performing moderate- to high-risk procedures on equine patients."

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About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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