News and Views

WA horse owners reminded of Hendra virus risk

With three recent cases of Hendra virus in eastern Australia, horse owners in Western Australia are reminded to take steps to reduce the risk of it occurring here.

WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development senior veterinary officer Michael Paton said Hendra virus had never been diagnosed in horses in WA, but there was a potential risk where horses and flying foxes (fruit bats) had contact.

“Flying foxes north of Shark Bay have been shown to carry the virus, so horse owners in the State’s north should be particularly vigilant and take steps to reduce the risk of the disease occurring in their horses,” Dr Paton said.

“Horse owners should minimise contact between their horses and flying foxes, particularly the urine, faeces and fruit debris from flying foxes.

“It is best to remove horses from yards or paddocks with fruiting or flowering trees where flying foxes feed, or to fence off those areas.

“Feed bins and water troughs should be placed under cover away from where flying foxes eat or roost.”

Dr Paton said vaccination against Hendra virus was an option, particularly if horses were likely to have contact with flying foxes or were travelling to, or having contact with, horses from Queensland or northern New South Wales.

“The vaccine is a preventive measure and may be a requirement by some horse event organisers,” Dr Paton said.

“Owners should discuss the merits of vaccination for their individual circumstances with their veterinarian.

Vaccinated horses will still require boosters and should still be monitored for illness or signs of infection.

“Signs of Hendra virus in horses are highly variable but can include high fever with rapid deterioration in health, laboured breathing, lack of coordination and dullness, wobbly gait and/or discharge from the nose.”

If a horse showed signs similar to Hendra virus after contact with flying foxes or with horses from Queensland or NSW, owners should immediately isolate the horse from people, other horses and animals and contact their veterinarian or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888.

“As horses can spread Hendra virus to people, horse owners and handlers should not have close contact with the horse until they receive veterinary advice,” Dr Paton said.

Source: WA DPIRD

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