Equine community on Hendra alert

THE Ipswich region’s horse community is on high alert after the outbreak of the deadly Hendra virus on a property near Boonah at the weekend.

Vet Peter Prenzler is among six people who face a long wait to discover whether they have contracted the potentially fatal virus after a horse tested positive to the virus at a Mount Alford property, near Boonah.

This is the second Hendra outbreak in Queensland in recent weeks after the first outbreak in the Beaudesert area.

There was also a case reported in northern New South Wales.

Michael Grieve, of Grandview Stud at Peak Crossing, said Hendra was worrying as it had a high mortality rate and was difficult to distinguish from common equine illnesses.

Mr Grieve, who was based at Boonah for many years, said the region’s horse owners were concerned and “everybody is on alert”.

Mr Grieve said he had already taken precautions against Hendra, despite low numbers of flying foxes at Peak Crossing, but was warning his staff to “treat every horse as though it’s got Hendra”.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he said.

So far six people exposed to the sick horse at Mount Alford have tested negative but they won’t be in the clear until two more blood samples taken over six weeks also test negative.

The Hendra virus is not as contagious as equine influenza (EI) but has an extremely high mortality rate.

To date seven people in Australia have been confirmed infected with Hendra; four have died.

CSIRO has developed a horse vaccine but it’s not expected to be commercially available until 2013.

There is no human vaccine.

Biosecurity Queensland has urged vets and horse owners to take every possible precaution when dealing with sick horses.

“It is quite possible that we will see more cases and I am appealing to anyone who has horses to take common sense steps to reduce the chance of any interaction between their horses and flying foxes,” Biosecurity Queensland chief veterinary officer Dr Rick Symons said.

Hendra virus cases are most common during winter and anyone working with horses should be on the lookout and immediately report any suspected cases.

Dr Symons said four properties – three in the Beaudesert area and one at Mount Alford – were under quarantine until more than 30 horses at the sites were given the all clear.

A mobile Biosecurity Queensland office will be based at Boonah from today as a point of contact for the community.

City of Ipswich Pony Club president Allen Zahnow said gymkhanas planned for the next two Sundays could be in doubt.

Competitors regularly travelled to Ipswich from Boonah and Beaudesert.

“I’ve got to talk to the relevant government department to see if we can still run them,” he said.

“Hendra is of concern with how it’s still spreading.”

But Ipswich Turf Club general manager Brett Kitching said racing would continue as normal at Bundamba.

“It has been contained to two properties,” Mr Kitching said.

“It stops horses and people moving on and off those two properties – there’s very little effect across the rest of the industry.

“We’re just waiting and hoping that everyone who possibly came into contact with the two infected horses is okay.”

Veterinarian Dr Prenzler treated both of the horses infected with Hendra at Mount Alford and said the first horse had all the signs of colic.

Alarm bells only started to ring when he was called to the property at Mount Alford a second time.

“It was rolling around and kept falling onto its side when it tried to get up,” Dr Prenzler said.

“I then picked up the phone and rang DPI (Department of Primary Industries) and said “I’ve got an interesting case here.”

When the results came back, his worst nightmare was confirmed.

What to look for

  • The disease spreads from flying foxes to horses and from horses to humans.
  • Common signs include respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated body temperature and elevated heart rate.
  • Protective measures include placing feed and water under cover, not placing feed and water under trees when flying foxes are in the area, not using feed that might attract flying foxes and where possible removing horses from fields were flying foxes are active.

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