A case of the Hendra virus has led to the death of a horse on a property near Scone in the Upper Hunter Valley, NSW. There were multiple deaths of horses in the Northern Rivers in 2017/18 including at Tweed, Murwillumbah and Lismore. A vaccination for the Hendra virus is available.
The Hendra virus can, on rare occasions, be passed from flying foxes to horses if the horses are not vaccinated and usually results in death. The disease can also be transmitted from horses to humans during close contact.
The horse in Scone developed neurological signs on Friday, 7 June, three days after being confined to a yard. It was euthanised by the owners after becoming unresponsive.
As the horse was not vaccinated and had a sudden onset of neurological signs, the owners contacted the animal diseases hotline.
A district veterinarian from Hunter Local Lands Services visited the property on Sunday 9 June to collect samples for Hendra virus testing.
Hendra virus infection was confirmed by the state veterinary laboratory at Menangle on Wednesday, 12 June.
No other horses on the property are showing any signs of ill health. Their health status will be monitored daily.
President of AVA’s Equine Veterinarians Australia group, Dr Cristy Secombe, said that this latest death is extremely alarming, with it being the 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. 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,’ she said.
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 over 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.
‘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,’ she said.
Dr Secombe said that 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.’
To reduce the chance of contracting the Hendra virus horses should be kept away from flowering and fruiting trees that attract bats and water and food troughs should not be kept under tress and kept covered.
Hendra virus can cause a range of symptoms in horses. Usually there is a sudden fever and either respiratory or neurological illness. If a horse is unwell other animals and people should be kept away and your vet called 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.