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Saturday: 8:30am to 11:00am
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Hendra Virus

Hendra Virus is a zoonotic disease, a virus transmissible from horses to people. It causes sporadic disease in horses, with a horse case fatality rate of 75% and human case fatality rate of 57% (4/7). It is current national policy that any horse that survives HeV infection be euthanased.

The natural hosts of HeV are flying foxes (fruit bats). There is a low but real risk of HeV spread via body fluids of flying foxes to horses, and via body fluids of horses (including blood and tissues) to people. There has been no evidence of human-to-human or flying fox-to-human spread of HeV. To date, HeV has been diagnosed in horses in Queensland and northern NSW. However there is potential for HeV infection in horses wherever flying foxes are found (northern parts of WA and NT, northern and eastern parts of QLD, east coast of NSW, and coastal parts of VIC).

Signs of Hev infection in horses may include any combination, and usually not all, of the following symptoms:

  • Rapid onset of illness
  • Elevated body temperature (fever). The normal rectal temperature of a horse is less than 38.6oC.
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Discomfort / weight shifting between legs
  • Depression
  • Rapid deterioration
  • Respiratory signs, including respiratory distress, elevated respiratory rate and/or nasal discharge (frothy at death)
  • Neurological signs, including wobbly gait, blindness in one or both eyes, aimless dazed walking, head tilt, circling, muscle twitching, urinary incontinence, and/or inability to rise.

If you suspect HeV, contact your local veterinarian immediately. If you cannot reach them, contact the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 (24 hours). Explain you are calling to notify a suspected HeV case (which is a legal obligation), and they will go through the case with you and provide professional advice. Isolate the horse if possible, then shower, change clothes and stay away from other horses.

Based on our current knowledge of the virus, the following advice will help to reduce the risk of horse infection with HeV.

  • Do not place feed and water containers under trees, and place under cover if possible
  • Avoid leaving out feed that attracts flying foxes. This includes fruit and vegetables (eg apples and carrots) and anything sweet (eg molasses)
  • If flowering/fruiting trees have resulted in a temporary increase in flying fox numbers, remove horses from the paddock if possible, or at least during peak flying fox activity (dusk and overnight)
  • Isolate any sick horse from other horses, people and animals until you have obtained a veterinarian’s opinion
  • Do not allow visitors (eg farriers) to work on sick horses
  • Always handle healthy horses before sick horses. Any gear exposed to body fluids should be disinfected
  • Wash your hands with soap and water regularly between and after handling multiple horses
  • If you contact sick horses, shower with shampoo and soap, and dress in clean clothes, before handling other horses
  • Seek veterinary advice before bringing a sick horse onto your property

Flying foxes are protected animals; attempted culling is unnecessary, ineffective and illegal. They are an important part of our natural environment, pollinating our native trees and spreading seeds.

Research into HeV is ongoing. A HeV vaccine for horses is under research and is anticipated to begin clinical field trials by the end of 2012.

For the latest information on Hendra Virus in New South Wales, please visit the NSW DPI website.

For the latest information on Hendra Virus in Queensland, please visit the QLD DPI website.

If you have any questions regarding Hendra Virus, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our veterinarians.