The New South Wales, Australia, Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is encouraging Australian owners to vaccinate their horses against Hendra virus.

Last week, an unvaccinated horse had to be euthanized at a property near Lismore, after samples from the horse tested positive to Hendra virus.

The DPI’s Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss, BVMS, MRCVS, said it is imperative that owners take all steps they possibly can to reduce the chances of their horses becoming infected with Hendra virus, which is transmitted to horses from flying foxes, a type of fruit bat that frequents Australia. The exact method of transmission remains unclear, however.

“Horse owners should discuss a vaccination strategy with their private veterinarian, as vaccination remains the most effective way of reducing the risk of Hendra virus infection in horses,” Middlemiss said. “Vaccinating your horse also protects your animals, and you and your family.

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“It’s also important that good biosecurity and personal hygiene measures are practiced,” she continued. “Horses should be kept away from flowering and fruiting trees that are attractive to bats. “Do not place feed and water under trees and cover feed and water containers with a shelter so they cannot be contaminated from above.”

Hendra virus can cause a range of clinical signs in horses. Usually there is a sudden fever and either respiratory or neurologic illness.

The zoonotic disease, which has not been diagnosed outside Australia, is transmissible to humans and has killed four people since it was first discovered, including an equine veterinarian who contracted the virus after treating an affected foal in 2009.

If your horse is unwell, keep people and other animals away from the horse and call your private veterinarian immediately. If your veterinarian is unavailable you can call a District Veterinarian with the Local Land Services or the Animal Biosecurity Emergency Hotline on 1800 675 888.