HENDRA Your questions answered
Thursday the 3rd April saw horse owners fill the Vet Cross Bundaberg conference room for an information night on Hendra virus. The history of Hendra virus, symptoms and transmission of the virus and the importance of vaccinating horses were some of the topics discussed and a popular question and answer session ended the evening.
Hendra is a deadly virus that can kill horses and humans and was first detected in 1994 in southern Queensland. To date there have been 90 horse deaths, 7 people have contracted the Hendra virus, 4 of which have died. Hendra virus lives in the four species of flying foxes that inhabit the entire east coast of Australia and is thought to infect horses after the horse eats the faeces, urine or other bodily fluids of the Flying Fox.
The guest speaker for the evening was Dr Richard L’Estrange a veterinarian who is Veterinary Operations Manager of Zoetis, the company that has developed the Hendra Virus vaccine. Dr L’Estrange highlighted the known and unknowns surrounding Hendra virus emphasising the human implications Hendra virus poses. He also took listeners through the development of the Hendra Virus vaccine and the results of the latest studies that are now before government.
The following were a sample of the questions attendees asked Dr L’Estrange:
Q. I have cleared the trees from in and around my paddocks and feed and water my horses under cover, is that protection enough?
A. Until the introduction of the vaccine removing the feed source of bats and watering/feeding horses undercover was our recommendation however a recent case had a horse contract Hendra virus in a paddock that had no trees within 500m of the paddock fence. The best way to protect your horse is to vaccinate.
Q. How is Hendra transmitted?
A. Although still not 100% proven we are 99.9% sure horses contract Hendra virus from eating the faeces, urine of other body fluids from flying foxes (fruit bats)
- Infected horses can then infect other horses via transmission of body fluids such as nasal discharge of licking each other.
- Infected horses can then infect people and dogs through close contact with infected fluids that contains the virus including nasal fluids, urine, faeces or mouth.
The scary thing is infected horses have the virus in their body fluids before they show any sign of being sick.
Q. How long can the virus live once it is outside of the bat or horse?
A. If in hot sun maybe for only 2 hours but if the virus is in liquid like blood, urine or saliva maybe 3 – 4 days.
Q. If a property has a case of Hendra virus what are the implications for other animals on the property like other horses and dogs?
A. If a diagnosis of Hendra Virus is made the property is quarantined by Biosecurity Queensland officials. It is thought all other animals on the property are tested and their fate is in the hands of the officials. To date, other than horses and people two dogs have tested positive for Hendra virus on properties with infected horses. Research shows infected dogs can transmit the virus to other animals/people. (i.e through a bite).
Q. What happens if I have a sick horse that isn’t vaccinated for Hendra virus and I need to call my vet?
A. The symptoms for Hendra are many and varied and continue to change. Increased temperature, increased heart rate, respiratory problems, neurological signs, colic, weakness, lethargy have all been described in infected horses meaning any sick unvaccinated horse could have Hendra virus.
Given the human implications imposed by the virus veterinarians may want to run tests to exclude the virus before starting treatment Results for a Hendra test can take up to 72 hours to return so not great if your horse has colic.
Q. What happens if I take my vaccinated horse to a competition where another horse subsequently becomes sick with Hendra Virus?
A. Given the incubation period of Hendra virus is 5-14 days in horses this is a real risk at competitions. If your horse is vaccinated (and not stabled right next-door to the infected horse) your horse’s microchip will be scanned to prove vaccination status and you will be free to go home. Those with unvaccinated horses will be put in lockdown for a lengthy period at their own expense!
This is why events like the exhibition are requiring horses be vaccinated before arrival. Given Hendra Virus is now a preventable disease it raises concerns for all equine groups regarding liability and workplace health and safety issues.
To summaries the evening the key point stressed by all speakers was to encourage all horse owners to vaccinate their horses as the only successful method of protecting you, your family, friends and your pets against Hendra Virus
If an owner has a horse that is sick and not vaccinated isolate the horse, maintain strict hygiene by wearing a mask, gloves and washing thoroughly and call your local veterinarian immediately advising them fully of your concerns.
Remember there is no cure for Hendra Virus, first and foremost vaccinate.
NB. Vet Cross would like to thank Debbie Thurlow for taking the notes at our Information night