Hendra Virus in Horses

Veterinarians in South Australia are now able to provide Hendra Virus vaccination for horses. This is great news and a big step forward in preventing this deadly disease - both deadly to horses and humans. Bats in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens have recently tested positive for Hendra virus, so the risk to South Australian horses is real and we recommend vaccination. The latest case of Hendra virus diagnosed in NSW is the most southerly case to date, and was in a location where there are no known bat colonies. Many states and organisations a beginning to have regulations on horses being vaccinated against Hendra Virus, for example all FEI/EA events in NSW where horses are staying overnight require all horses entered to be fully vaccinated against Hendra.

Hendra virus vaccination for your horse is simple. It must be performed by an accredited veterinarian and your horse must also be microchipped to be able to be vaccinated. Microchipping can be performed at the first vaccination if your horse is not already done. To vaccinate your horse against Hendra virus two initial boosters are given 3 to 6 weeks apart, followed by 6-monthly boosters ongoing.

Our current stance on Hendra Virus is detailed below:

April 2014

Dear Valued Equine Client,

We are writing to you to provide some updated information on Hendra virus and the Hendra virus vaccination. We feel that the serious nature of this disease and the real risk to both horses and people has been overlooked by many South Australians just because we live in a “low risk” zone. It is true that the risk of contracting Hendra virus in this state is very low and that there has never been a confirmed case of the virus in SA. Regardless of this, there are many horses that travel into our state that may have come from a high risk area and may expose local horses to Hendra virus. As well as this there are many South Australian horses that travel interstate for various reasons and are entering high risk areas without being vaccinated. Hendra cases have been confirmed in Queensland and New South Wales. The latest case was confirmed on 19th March 2014 in Bundaberg in Queensland. The most southern cases of Hendra were in Kempsey NSW, which is just north of Port Macquarie. We believe that any horse that travels interstate and any horse that attends any show or workshop event (even just local shows) should be vaccinated against Hendra virus. Hendra virus is a serious disease and will result in the death of your horse if they catch it – at least 70% of horses die from the virus and it is a requirement for any that test positive to be euthanased. On a more serious note, the virus can also be contracted by humans and of the 7 confirmed human cases, 4 of these people died. All of these cases were in people in close contact with infected horses (trainers, owners and veterinarians). Hendra virus is now seen as a serious occupational health and safety risk for veterinarians and other workers in the various equine industries. As a result of this there are many veterinarians in Queensland that refuse to treat or attend to sick or injured horses unless they are vaccinated against Hendra virus. Due to being in a low risk area we do not feel that this action is necessary in this state at this stage, but in future if South Australia ever has a confirmed Hendra virus case we will choose to implement this policy as part of our practice. Both human and horse health is too valuable to risk by not being vigilant about Hendra virus.

If you have horses that attend shows or other events or especially if you have horses that travel interstate at all we strongly encourage you to vaccinate these horses. We also strongly encourage any horse that is kept at an agistment property to be vaccinated as you have no control over the movement of other animals on and off that property. Any horses that are housed in contact with horses that travel, attend shows or are kept at agistment should also be vaccinated.

Hendra virus vaccination for horses is the only way to protect people from the virus, so we see this as an important public health measure as well as a veterinary health measure. Hendra virus vaccination must be administered by an accredited veterinarian. Horses must also be microchipped to receive the vaccination. Two initial boosters are administered 3 to 6 weeks apart, followed by ongoing 6-monthly boosters. We are hoping that new research will soon show that this can be changed to 12-monthly boosters.

For any further information on Hendra virus or vaccination, please do not hesitate to contact the clinic. We encourage you to vaccinate against Hendra for both your horses’ and your own safety.

 

If you would like more information please contact the clinic. Below is a newsletter article providing more information on Hendra Virus:

HENDRA VIRUS

Hendra virus is a deadly infection in horses and humans. It was first detected in Queensland in 1994. There have been almost 100 deaths or euthanasias in horses due to Hendra virus. There have been 7 human cases and 4 of those people died as a result of the infection. Hendra virus is spread to horses from fruit bats (flying foxes) – the natural host of the virus. Hendra virus has recently been discovered in bats in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. It is thought that the virus is transmitted via feed contaminated with fruit bat faeces and urine. The virus can then be spread from horse to horse and from horse to human through contact with respiratory secretions or blood from an infected horse. The infection can cause a range of symptoms in horses including increased body temperature, increased heart rate, rapid onset of illness, discomfort or weight shifting between legs, respiratory signs (coughing, nasal discharge, difficulty breathing etc) and neurological signs (weakness, wobbliness, loss of coordination, muscle twitching, urinary incontinence, altered consciousness etc).

Since December 2012 veterinarians have been able to provide vaccination against Hendra virus in horses. The Australian Veterinary Association recommends that all horses should be vaccinated against Hendra virus, especially in the known higher risk areas. This will protect the horses, but more importantly protect vets and other people in contact with horses. From a vet’s perspective, this is very much a workplace health and safety issue.

Only accredited vets can administer this vaccine. This is to make sure it’s handled correctly, administered correctly and recorded correctly, in accordance with the government’s permit requirements. The risk to people is too high if something goes wrong and the vaccine doesn’t work properly. Each horse will need an initial vaccination, then a booster dose 21 – 42 days later. This will protect the horse from Hendra virus from around 3 weeks after the second dose. Research is still underway on how frequently additional booster doses will be required to maintain immunity over time, but at this stage 6-monthly boosters are required. To be able to be vaccinated for Hendra Virus a horse must be microchipped so that its identification number can be recorded on the vaccine register. This is a requirement of the government permit.

The risk of Hendra Virus in South Australia is considered low and there have never been any reported or diagnosed cases in SA. However, we know horses travel regularly and they travel long distances around the country, and we know antibodies have been found in flying foxes right across Australia – including fruit bat populations in SA. That’s why the Australian Veterinary Association recommends that all horses in Australia are eventually vaccinated for Hendra virus.

The risk of being confronted with a Hendra virus infected horse will not disappear in a hurry, so horse handlers and vets still need to be very careful around sick horses - remembering to practise good hygiene and to wear appropriate personal protective equipment.

We have included some FAQs about Hendra virus and vaccination published by the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) below:

 

“How much will it cost to vaccinate your horse?

Each vet is responsible for setting their own fees so costs will vary according to a number of factors. These will include how many horses are vaccinated at the one appointment, what other procedures are performed at the same appointment and whether the horses are taken to the vet or the vet has to travel to the horse. Each horse will require two doses of the vaccine, 21 - 42 days apart.

Why does the vaccine cost that much?

Like in any business, the cost of the vaccination relates to the cost of the product and delivering it to the patient. Hendra is a potentially deadly virus for humans so vaccination is crucial to breaking the cycle of transmission from flying foxes to horses and then to humans. Keeping horses safe from Hendra is important, but it’s really about protecting people from a rare but deadly disease.

We also need to remember that there’s been a significant investment in getting the vaccine to market so quickly, and that comes at a cost too.

Have vets left the industry or stopped treating horses because of Hendra?

Some vets may have decided to stop treating sick horses, which is their right to protect themselves and their employees. But there’s still a good supply of equine vets treating sick horses around Australia. Having a Hendra vaccine will greatly reduce the workplace health and safety risks associated with the Hendra virus, so that’s good news for horse owners and vets.

Will vets refuse to treat a sick horse if it’s not vaccinated?

It’s certainly a vet’s right to make decisions about whether to treat a horse based on the risk to the vet and other veterinary staff. For workplace health and safety reasons, veterinarians may choose to make vaccination against Hendra virus a pre-requisite for visiting or treating sick horses. But having a Hendra vaccine will help make the job of an equine vet safer. That’s why the Australian Veterinary Association recommends that all horses are vaccinated.

Is Hendra an issue outside Queensland and northern NSW?

So far there have only been cases in Queensland and New South Wales. But the virus has been found in flying foxes all around Australia, so it’s possible that the disease could appear anywhere in Australia. Also, horses often move around a lot in Australia, and can quite easily be moving to and from areas where there’s a risk of Hendra virus. That’s why the Australian Veterinary Association recommends that all horses are eventually vaccinated.

How likely is it that a horse or person might get Hendra?

We really don’t know all the risk factors for Hendra virus – there are still a lot of question marks. We do know that this is a fairly rare disease, and that a person needs a high level of exposure to a sick horse to catch it. So far there have only been cases in Queensland and New South Wales. But the virus has been found in flying foxes all around Australia, so it’s possible that the disease could appear anywhere in Australia. Also, horses often move around a lot in Australia, and can quite easily be moving to and from areas where there’s a risk of Hendra virus. That’s why the Australian Veterinary Association recommends that all horses are eventually vaccinated.

If all horses in Australia were vaccinated, we know that the risk of any horses or people being infected will reduce significantly.

Who can provide the vaccine?

The vaccine must be administered by a registered veterinarian. Veterinarians must go through a special accreditation process before they are able to start vaccinating.

Will the vaccine remain a vet only vaccine?

That is hard to predict, but the AVA believes it should remain a vet-only vaccine to make sure it’s handled, administered and recorded correctly. The risk to people is too high if something goes wrong and the vaccine doesn’t work properly.”

 

For more information on Hendra virus please visit:

 www.ava.com.au/hendra-virus or www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au

For more information on Hendra virus infection in humans you can call the Queensland Health Hotline on 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or visit www.health.qld.gov.au