Testing for Hendra virus.
Testing for Hendra virus. Rob Wright

Horse owners warned to vaccinate against Hendra virus

WITH the peak danger period for the deadly Hendra virus approaching, horse owners in areas frequented by flying foxes are being urged talk to their vet about vaccination.

The vaccination, introduced by Zoetis Australia last year, provides protection from the virus for about six months.

Agriculture Minister John McVeigh called on horse owners to protect their horses, families and employees from Hendra, which claims about 75% of infected horses and has led to human deaths.

He said while recent data showed the vaccine offered protection for up to six months, people in contact with horses still needed to use "common" sense and follow hygiene practices.

"The Hendra virus vaccine is only for Hendra virus and horses can carry other diseases," Mr McVeigh said

"Anyone handling sick horses should take steps to protect themselves using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)."

This year, horses at Mackay and the Northern Tablelands died of the virus.

Zoetis doctor Stephanie Armstrong said the vaccine was crucial in breaking the Hendra cycle.

Chief Biosecurity Officer Dr Jim Thompson said research was continuing to determine if the vaccine will provide protection against Hendra virus for up to 12 months.

He said changes had also been made around the timing of the second dose which research suggests can be administrated anytime between three to six weeks after the first round.

An equipment rebate is offered to Queensland vets dealing with suspect horses.

More information is available at www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au

Steps to reducing the risk of Hendra virus

Talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating your horse against Hendra virus.

Horse feed and water containers should be removed from under trees. If possible, place feed and water containers under a shelter.

Owners should inspect and identify flowering/fruiting trees on their property. Horses should be removed from paddocks where flowering/fruiting trees are attracting flying foxes

Horses should be returned only after the trees have stopped flowering/fruiting and the flying foxes have gone. If horses cannot be removed from the paddock, consider fencing (temporary or permanent) to restrict access to flowering/ fruiting trees.

Clean up any fruit debris underneath the trees before returning horses.

If it is not possible to remove horses from paddocks, try to temporarily remove your horses during times of peak flying fox activity (usually at dusk and during the night).

Ensure that sick horses are isolated from other horses, people and animals until a veterinarian's opinion is obtained.

If there is more than one horse on your property, handle unaffected horses first and then only handle sick horses after taking appropriate precautions.

Make sure gear exposed to any body fluids from horses is cleaned and disinfected before it is used on another horse. This includes halters, lead ropes and twitches.

Talk to your veterinarian about which cleaning agents and disinfectants to use.

When cleaning contaminated equipment from a sick horse, wear gloves, cover any cuts or grazes and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

Source: Biosecurity Queensland

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