hendra virus

After a New South Wales mare recently died due to Hendra virus infection, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is reminding horse owners in that country that vaccination can help prevent this deadly virus in their horses.

Cristy Secombe, BSc, BVMS, MVsc (hons), MANZCVS, Dipl. ACVIM, president of the AVA’s Equine Veterinarians Australia, said this latest death is extremely alarming because it is furthest south that a Hendra case has been recorded in Australia, near Scone—Australia’s horse capital—in the upper Hunter Valley of New South Wales.

“Hendra virus is a deadly virus,” she said. “For the benefit of horses and their owners, it is essential that horses located in, around or travelling to high-risk Hendra areas along the east coast, are vaccinated against Hendra virus.”

From 1994, when the virus was identified, to now there have over 60 known Hendra incidents in Queensland and New South Wales, resulting in the death of more than 100 horses.

“Every one of these horses that has died because of Hendra represents one more compelling reason for horse owners to vaccinate their horses,” Secombe said. “The risk this disease poses to human health is also very real with seven confirmed cases in people leading to four deaths. So, it’s important that the horse community remains vigilant in protecting both horses and people from Hendra.”

Secombe said the vaccine, introduced in 2012, remains the most effective way to help manage the Hendra virus and is fully registered with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.

“Vaccination of horses provides a public health and workplace health and safety benefit by reducing the risk of Hendra virus transmission to humans and other susceptible animals and helps to ensure high standards of animal health and welfare,” she said.

Australian owners should contact their local veterinarian for more information about Hendra virus vaccination, which is a very important part of their horse health and welfare strategy, the AVA said.

Hendra Virus 101

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.

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

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.