RARE BUT LETHAL: Gympie vet Justin Schooth will also speak at an information evening on the hendra threat at The Pavilion later this month.
RARE BUT LETHAL: Gympie vet Justin Schooth will also speak at an information evening on the hendra threat at The Pavilion later this month. Renee Pilcher

Hendra survivor talks about 34-day fight for life

VET nurse and hendra virus survivor Natalie Beohm will be keynote speaker at an information evening at the Gympie Showgrounds later this month on the threat of hendra virus and implications for the region's horse owners.

Ms Beohm will be joined by speakers Justin Schooth, an equine vet with Gympie Vet Services, and Dr Richard L'Estrange of global animal health company Zoetis, at The Pavilion Conference Centre at the Gympie Showgrounds on June 23.

Ms Beohm had just turned 21 in 2008, when she became the sixth person in the world to contract what has been described as one of the most virulent viruses known to science while working as a senior nurse at the Redlands Veterinary Clinic near Brisbane.

The following 34 days were a fight for life, and although she survived, Ms Beohm's life has never been the same.

This is the story she will share with the Gympie audience.

Her friend and colleague, vet Ben Cunneen, died of hendra in the same outbreak.

Ms Beohm was working with Cunneen and other staff at the Redland's clinic when a horse (Truly Gifted) fell violently ill.

Other horses also quickly started presenting with neurological disorders.

The clinic was closed and quarantined, and the horses subsequently tested positive for hendra.

Hendra is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is able to move from animals to humans.

It was first discovered in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra in 1994, when it claimed the life of 13 horses and trainer Vic rail.

The evidence to-date shows hendra can be transmitted from flying fox to horse, from horse to horse and from horse to human.

In 2011, a dog tested positive to the virus for the first time but researchers are still trying to determine how it affects dogs and whether they can transmit it to humans.

Other species may be susceptible as well.

It causes a range of symptoms in horses; they are typically fast acting and death comes rapidly from respiratory or neurological symptoms.

Of horses infected, 75% die as a result of the virus.

Horses found to have hendra are typically killed to minimise spread of the virus.

While the transfer of the virus from horses to humans is rare, four of the seven human cases since 1994 have resulted in death.

A vaccine for the virus has been developed but it is not cheap and many horses remain unvaccinated.

Legal and Workplace Health and Safety implications now mean vets may be forced to refuse to see horses that fall ill in the Gympie region if they have not been vaccinated against hendra (close direct contact is needed for transmission to occur).

Hendra has been found in Bundaberg, Tewantin, Beaudesert, Boonah, Park Ridge, Kuranda, Hervey Bay, Boondall, Logan Reserve, Chinchilla, Cairns, Rockhampton, Mackay and the Gold Coast.

Inquiries about the information evening to Dr Schooth at 5482 2488.

 

SYMPTOMS

HENDRA virus symptoms in horses typically include:

n a sudden fever;

laboured breathing;

n frothy or blood-stained nasal discharge; and

neurological changes such as loss of vision, muscle twitching or loss of balance.

 

SYMPTOMS in humans include:

n a flu-like illness that can develop into pneumonia or encephalitis.

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