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Horse owners uged to remain vigilant

Hendra virus death prompts authorities to alert equine enthusiasts.

LAURA HURLEY July 8, 2014 3:37am

Spread of flying fox populations across Australia. Source: Department of Primary Industries


After the death of another horse caused by the Hendra virus in northern NSW last week, authorities are calling on horse owners to begin taking precautions to prevent infection.

The Hendra virus is carried by bats (flying foxes) that inhabit Australia, Papua New Guinea and surrounding islands.

The virus can be transmitted from the bats to horses, and from there can infect people and other animals that come into contact with the infected horse.

The onset of infection for humans and horses can cause severe illness, usually resulting in death.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Primary Industries Victoria described the disease as ‘‘low risk’’ in Victoria.

‘‘But precautions should always be taken in areas where there are large flying fox populations in close proximity with horses and/or with horses arriving from Queensland or Northern NSW,’’ she said.

‘‘If you notice a sudden onset of illness in your horse or your horse has died suddenly and you live in an area where there is a population of flying foxes that could come in contact with your horse, and/or your horse has travelled from Queensland or Northern NSW in the past two to three weeks, you should contact your veterinary practitioner.’’

The DEPI recommends the following if you suspect your horse has been infected:

Avoid close contact with suspect infected horse/s and other horses that have been in contact with them;

Isolate the suspected horse where possible — preferably by relocating other animals;

Observe the suspect horse from a distance and notify your veterinarian if you notice changes in their condition; and

Where possible, provide feed and water for the suspect horse/s from a distance.

If close contact with the suspect horse is necessary ensure you take the following precautions:

If you have any cuts or abrasions, ensure they are covered with a water-resistant dressing;

Use personal protective equipment, covering hands with gloves, feet with boots, and clothing with overalls;

Wear a P2 mask (particulate respirator) and safety glasses. This should help to protect your face from potential contact with the suspect horse’s bodily fluids (saliva, nasal secretions, blood and urine);

Remove and dispose of PPE carefully;

Wash your hands carefully with soap/disinfectant after all activities; and

Ask your veterinarian for help with putting on, taking off and safe disposal of PPE. Ensure P2 masks are fitted correctly to reduce your risk of infection.

If your horse tests positive to the Hendra virus your local veterinarian will work with the DEPI Victoria to manage the situation.

The property where the horse is located will be placed under quarantine by DEPI until all other horses on the property and that have visited or travelled off or onto the property within the past few weeks can be cleared of infection.

The best means of prevention to date is inoculation.

A vaccination developed in 2012 is the single most effective way of reducing the risk of Hendra virus infection in horses.

The vaccination must be administered by a veterinarian and is given in two 1ml doses at an interval of three weeks.

If you suspect your horse has been infected with the Hendra virus, you should contact your veterinary practitioner or the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800675888.

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