More Hendra Cases Likely, AVA Warns

Following the confirmation of four horses infected with hendra virus in Queensland, Australia, in the past two weeks, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is reminding horse owners to take safety precautions around any sick horse.

With the unprecedented number of hendra cases in Queensland and New South Wales last year, the AVA expects more cases in the next few months.

AVA spokesman Barry Smyth, BVSc, FACVSc, Dipl. ACVS, said that the new cases were a reminder to horse owners to take all necessary precautions that reduce the risk of spreading the disease.

"It's a timely reminder for horse owners to prevent contact between horses and flying foxes (the fruit bad known to play a role in disease transmission) as far as possible and to adopt good hygiene practices when handling any sick horse. It's also important to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible when your horse is sick," he added.

"Although so far the virus has appeared predominantly in Queensland, there have also been cases in New South Wales and in theory it's possible that hendra could appear anywhere in Australia at any time, Smyth cautioned. "Personal protective equipment and clothing are critical to reducing the risk of contracting and spreading the disease."

"The AVA welcomed the Queensland government's investment of one million dollars over four years to allow private vets to claim for personal protective equipment used while investigating suspected hendra virus cases, however we call on other state governments to step in with similar programs to help prevent hendra infections in people," he relayed.

"These two recent cases also demonstrate the urgency of a hendra vaccine for horses and the AVA believes all horses should be vaccinated against the disease," Smyth concluded. "Horse vaccination and microchipping will give veterinarians, horse owners, and handlers a high level of protection against hendra virus."

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 Australian Veterinary Association suggested that horse owners can reduce the risks of hendra virus in their horses by fencing off trees attractive to flying foxes, covering horse feed and water containers, and not feeding horses food that could appeal to flying foxes, such as fruit and vegetables.

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