Queensland Parliament Seeking Opinions on Hendra Vaccine

The Agricultural and Environment Committee of the Queensland, Australia, Parliament is asking veterinarians and others there to share their thoughts about the use of EquiVacc, an equine vaccine developed to fight Hendra virus, in horses.

The virus was first recognized in 1994 following the death of a popular horse trainer and 20 horses in Hendra, a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland. Hendra virus (HeV) occurs naturally in flying foxes, or “megabats,” found in Australia.

“The megabats carry the virus but don't get sick,” explained Melissa Hines, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, professor at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

The virus, which to date has only been found in Australia, is thought to be transferred to horses via contaminated urine, feces, and/or fetal fluids. According to the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), the disease can cause respiratory or neurologic signs of disease in horses, and 70% of the horses that tested positive for the virus die.

Hendra is a zoonotic disease, meaning that humans who come into contact with infected horse could also become infected. Of the seven known human Hendra cases, the AVA reports that four were fatal.

“It is a rare problem, even in Australia, but consequences for the horse and people can be severe,” Hines said.

In 2012, EquiVacc, the HeV virus vaccine was made available for use in Australia. The AVA encouraged vaccine use on grounds that it would significantly decrease the risk of HeV exposure horse owners, handlers, and veterinarians.

Still, some horse owners have chosen not vaccinate their horses on grounds that the vaccine could cause adverse side effects. At the same time, some Australian veterinarians—fearing horse-to-human infection—decline to treat horses in cases where HeV infection was suspected.

As a result, in February, Parliament’s Agriculture and Environment Committee asked veterinarians and horse owners to submit information about their experiences with the disease and the vaccine, and how the product’s use or lack of use might affect the Australian equine industry. Submission guidelines are available on Parliament's website.

Once the investigation is finished, the results could be used to make future environmental and veterinary policy, the committee reported.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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