Study: Communicating Hendra Virus Risk to Horse Owners Proves Challenging

Under Australian law, a vet treating an animal is responsible for the health and safety of all people present. While some horse owners were receptive to vets’ safety directives regarding Hendra virus-related risks to animal and human health, others weren’t.

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Hendra virus
The seven people who have had Hendra virus (shown above) included four veterinary personnel (two died, two survived), a horse trainer (died), a stable hand (survived), and a horse owner (died). | Photo: Photo: Courtesy CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory

Faced with a sick horse, veterinarians’ primary concern is to treat the animal, get him well again, and prevent disease spread in the meantime. But when the horse’s illness presents a health threat to people, as well, priorities can change. Human health and safety move to the forefront, with the veterinarian serving in the important role of educating clients.

The trouble is, horse owners don’t always listen. So Australian researchers recently examined how to effectively stress the importance of the risks associated with Hendra virus, a deadly zoonotic disease that emerged on the east coast of Australia in the 1990. Zoonotic diseases are those than can transfer between animals and humans.

Hendra virus is carried by flying foxes, Australian fruit-eating bats endemic to tropical and sub-tropical regions. Horses get it by inadvertently ingesting infected droppings or bodily fluids, and humans contract it when handling infected equine patients

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Written by:

Jill Griffiths is a freelance writer specializing in agriculture and environment and resides in Western Australia. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism. Through her work, she interacts with leading researchers across Australia, providing her with access to current research in many fields. A life-long horse lover, Griffiths came to horse ownership in mid-life and currently shares three horses with her young daughter. She enjoys groundwork, trail riding, flatwork, and just hanging out with the horses in the paddock.

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