Hendra virus in New South Wales

Australian animal health officials are urging horse owners to remain vigilant following confirmation of Hendra virus in New South Wales. The affected horse, an unvaccinated 4-year-old Arabian-cross, was located near Tweed Heads.

New South Wales (NSW) Department of Primary Industries Chief Veterinary Officer Sarah Britton, BVSc, MACVSc, Dipl. VetClinStud., said the property near Tweed Heads has been placed under movement restrictions by Local Land Services.

“This is the first confirmed case of Hendra virus in NSW this year,” Britton said. “Samples from the horse were sent by a private veterinarian for laboratory analysis to Queensland’s Biosecurity Sciences Laboratory at Coopers Plains and initial test results confirmed Hendra virus.”

She said the horse’s owner initially noticed the horse was acting lethargic and not eating properly. “It deteriorated the next day and was euthanized by a private veterinarian,” she said.

Britton said vaccination of horses is the most effective way to help manage Hendra virus disease.

“Vaccination of horses provides a public health and work health and safety benefit by reducing the risk of Hendra transmission to humans and other susceptible animals,” she said. “Whenever Hendra infection is suspected, even in vaccinated horses, appropriate biosecurity precautions, including personal protective equipment, should be used.”

She also noted that owners should keep horses away from flowering and fruiting trees that are attractive to flying fox bats, which transmit the virus.

“Do not place feed and water under trees and cover feed and water containers with a shelter so they cannot be contaminated from above,” Britton said.

Hendra Virus 101

Hendra virus was first identified in Australia in 1994. Since then, 102 horses in Queensland and NSW have died due to the virus. It has not been confirmed outside of those Australian states.

Hendra virus has been known to yield numerous clinical signs in horses including lethargy, respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated body temperature (above 40°C, or 104°F), and elevated heart rate; however, authorities caution that infection does not have specific signs.

The zoonotic disease 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.