Horse owners of the Illawarra are alerted that it is Hendra virus season again after another fatality on the Mid North Coast.
Hendra virus is one of Australia’s most lethal viruses having killed 75% of horses and 4 out of 7 humans confirmed to have been exposed to the virus.
Most recently there have been 4 cases in horses in the Macksville and Kempsey districts, the last one on the 10th July. The horse became seriously ill and failed to respond to antibiotics and had to be euthanased. One of the more concerning findings in the most recent outbreak is that the symptoms have been so varied and can mimic many other conditions including colic and respiratory disease.
It is thought that Hendra virus is spread from fruit bat (flying fox) to horse via droppings or body fluids contaminating horse food and water. Hendra virus can be spread from horse to horse and from horse to human through close contact with respiratory secretions and/or blood from an infected horse.
The symptoms in horses can include sudden onset of fever, loss of appetite, discomfort/weight shifting, respiratory distress, nasal discharge, circling, head tilt, staggering, muscle twitching, urinary incontinence and depression.
Signs in humans can mimic flu like symptoms and can progress to seizures and coma.
Horse owners are reminded that there is a substantial fruit bat population in the Illawarra. So far Hendra virus has been detected in Fruit bats in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
The good news is that a vaccine has recently been developed and is the single most effective way of preventing your horse from getting the Hendra virus.
Vaccinating your horse also protects all humans in contact with that horse.
There have been no cases of direct spread to humans from fruit bats.
The vaccine has also proven very safe. So far over 34,000 horses have been vaccinated in Australia. There has been very few incidences of reactions recorded. Most reactions have been mild and transient, no more than would be expected with any vaccine. Despite this, Hendra virus vaccination uptake has
been slow. The 4 recent cases on the Mid North Coast were in unvaccinated horses and now the local horse owning population is scrambling to get their horses and themselves protected.
You can also help prevent the risk of infection by ensuring feed and water troughs are not under trees, by fencing off access to fruit trees including natives such as fig trees, keeping water and food troughs clean and away from fruit bat contamination, ensuring strict hygiene and isolating sick horses from other horses and people.
If you have any further queries or suspicions about illness in your horse please contact your vet. You can also get more information from the NSW Department of Primary Industries website.
In response to this latest outbreak, Austinmer Veterinary Hospital and Helensburgh Veterinary Clinic are offering those horse owners who get their horses vaccinated before the 31st July, half price for the second vaccination.