EXPENSIVE BUSINESS: Horse owner Mykaella Gosper, from Blakebrook, had to vaccinate seven horses for the North Coast National last year.
EXPENSIVE BUSINESS: Horse owner Mykaella Gosper, from Blakebrook, had to vaccinate seven horses for the North Coast National last year. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Research project looks at attitudes to Hendra vaccine

A UNIVERSITY of Western Sydney research project on managing the risk of Hendra virus is calling for input from Northern Rivers horse owners.

Flying foxes on the Northern Rivers are known to carry the viral disease, which can be passed from horses to humans.

In 2011, 10 horses on the Northern Rivers died as a result of Hendra, according to Queensland Department of Agriculture records, with various, often isolated, incidents occurring since then.

The university's project is investigating the risk management attitudes and practices of horse owners who have chosen not to vaccinate their animals, but owners of vaccinated horses will participate.

>> CLICK HERE TO TAKE PART IN THE SURVEY

"This research, and the information you provide, will be of great value to those working in animal disease policy and response, as well as veterinarians and public health professionals," the university said.

Blakebrook horse owner Mykaella Gosper, of The Channon Dunoon Pony Club, encouraged vaccinations, but said it was an expensive process and often a divisive topic among owners.

"It costs roughly $200 per horse, depending on your vet," she said.

"It can be a bit expensive if you have a family all riding and lots of horses.

"I had to vaccinate seven horses for the North Coast Nationals last year."

ABOUT THE HENDRA VIRUS

  • It is one of two forms of Henipavirus. The other is Nipah virus.
  • Discovered after an outbreak in horses at a large racing stable in the suburb of Hendra, Brisbane, in 1994.
  • It's thought horses may contract Hendra from eating matter recently contaminated with flying fox urine, saliva or birth products.
  • Early signs in horses can include fever, increased heart rate and restlessness, difficulty breathing, weakness and neurological signs, such as uncoordinated gait and muscle twitching, quickly leading to death in most cases.
  • Human infections cause an influenza-like illness with symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, headache and tiredness and/or inflammation of the brain.
  • Symptoms such as headache, high fever and drowsiness progress to convulsions and/or coma.

But Ms Gosper said preventing the virus's spread was worth the cash.

"It's deadly. If I didn't vaccinate and my horse became sick they'd be put down. I'd feel terrible," she said.

"It'd be even worse if a kid or someone contracted it."

Ms Gosper noted Equestrian Australia recently withdrew its compulsory vaccinations, which were required to compete.

She said if Hendra vaccinations were ever regulated, subsidies would be needed.

The university's research is supported by the NSW, Queensland and Federal governments.


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