Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

Hendra strikes again – handy hints for horse owners

July 4, 2011

Moving horseWith three Hendra outbreaks now confirmed in the Gold Coast hinterland and northern NSW, and the so-called ‘Hendra season’ about to begin, horse owners are urged to be particularly vigilant.

There are some precautions all horse owners can take when dealing with a sick animal to protect themselves, other people and in-contact horses.

Detection

The Hendra virus is difficult to detect and there is currently no rapid diagnostic test to detect the infection in the field. Samples must be sent off to a laboratory for examination.

While the heart rate and temperature of horses tend to go up first, the animals can have the virus and be excreting it for a couple of days before they show any clinical signs of the disease.

 In addition, when the clinical signs do appear they are not specific to Hendra virus infection – they might be due to other diseases. Horse owners are therefore urged to report any suspected cases immediately for clinical diagnosis.

Immediate action

For those living in areas with flying foxes, treat all sick horses as if they potentially have the Hendra virus.

If you have a sick horse, isolate the horse from other horses, people and animals (eg remove companion animals to another area) until you have obtained a veterinary opinion.

Do not move the sick horse off the property. If it is not at home, do not return home but isolate it on the property it is located.

Avoid close contact with the sick horse where possible. If this is unavoidable, consider the horse’s blood and body fluids as potentially infectious and take precautions to prevent contact with these including:◦using personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect your clothing, exposed skin and face from contact with the horse’s blood and body fluids

  • training workers and yourselves in how to use unfamiliar PPE, such as particulate respirators
  • covering cuts and abrasions with a water-resistant dressing
  • following instructions for biosecurity and personal safety provided by an appropriately qualified government officer or a veterinarian.

If you have handled a sick horse, and before contact with other horse:

  • wash off any contamination with plenty of soap and water, especially after handling your horse’s mouth or nose (eg fitting or removing a bridle) and before eating, smoking or touching your eyes, nose or mouth shower and wash your hair, and change your clothes
  • arrange your activities so that you have contact with the sick horse last.

Next steps                                                         

Always consider Hendra virus as a possible cause of illness in horses. Notify suspected cases by calling the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888. There is a legal obligation to notify authorities of suspected cases.

Seek medical advice or ring your local health authority if you or a worker has had contact with a horse suspected or confirmed as being infected with Hendra virus.

Prevention and further information

Hendra virus is carried and transmitted by flying foxes to horses, especially in the northern half of Australia. As there is currently no specific treatment for Hendra, for either people or horses, it is important to follow a number of straightforward biosecurity measures in risk-prone areas.

For details on these and comprehensive information on the Hendra virus, visit Biosecurity Queensland’s web page.

The best protection against Hendra, as well as other horse diseases and pests, is to have a biosecurity plan in place for your property or venue. Whether you own just one horse or manage a racing complex holding hundreds, the Horse Venue Biosecurity Workbook will help you design and implement measures appropriate for your property.

(Information courtesy of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland)