Reminder to horse owners about Hendra virus

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To reduce the risk of Hendra virus horse owners should make sure their animals are not exposed to the urine, faeces and fruit debris from flying foxes. Picture DPIRD

AFTER three recent cases of Hendra virus in the eastern states horse owners and racehorse trainers in Yanchep and Gingin are being reminded to minimise contact between their animals and fruit bats if  they are taken north of Shark Bay.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development senior veterinary officer Michael Paton said Hendra virus had never been diagnosed in horses in Western Australia, but there was a potential risk where horses and flying foxes (fruit bats) had contact.

Dr Paton said flying foxes north of Shark Bay had been shown to carry the Hendra virus, so horse owners in the state’s north should be particularly vigilant and take steps to reduce the risk of the disease occurring in their horses.

He said horse owners should take steps to reduce the risk of Hendra virus by limiting their animals exposure to the urine, faeces and fruit debris from flying foxes.

“It is best to remove horses from yards or paddocks with fruiting or flowering trees where flying foxes feed, or to fence off those areas,’’ he said.

“Feed bins and water troughs should be placed under cover away from where flying foxes eat or roost.”

Dr Paton said vaccination against Hendra virus was an option, particularly if horses were likely to have contact with flying foxes or were travelling to, or having contact with, horses from Queensland or northern New South Wales.

“The vaccine is a preventive measure and may be a requirement by some horse event organisers.

“Owners should discuss the merits of vaccination for their individual circumstances with their veterinarian.

“Vaccinated horses will still require boosters and should still be monitored for illness or signs of infection.

“Signs of Hendra virus in horses are highly variable but can include high fever with rapid deterioration in health, laboured breathing, lack of coordination and dullness, wobbly gait and/or discharge from the nose.”

If a horse showed signs similar to Hendra virus after contact with flying foxes or with horses from Queensland or NSW, owners should immediately isolate the horse from people, other horses and animals and contact their veterinarian or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888.

“As horses can spread Hendra virus to people, horse owners and handlers should not have close contact with the horse until they receive veterinary advice.’’

For more information about Hendra virus, search Hendra at agric.wa.gov.au

Information about the Hendra virus vaccine is available at health4horses.com.au