TODAY marks a breakthrough for horse owners and the equine industry with the world's first Hendra virus horse vaccine, Equivac® HeV, now approved for annual boosters following administration of the first three doses.
Previously, horses were required to have six-monthly boosters to maintain immunity against the deadly virus.
Now, horse owners can halve the number of boosters required after a single six-month booster is administered, making Hendra vaccination much more affordable.
"When vaccinated horses were challenged with a potent strain of Hendra virus 12-months after receiving a six-month booster, these horses were protected from infection," said Dr. Deborah Middleton, lead researcher at the CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL).
The work at CSIRO was supported by extensive field studies in which antibody levels were measured in horses vaccinated at intervals of 12 months.
"We are confident in the safety and efficacy of 12-month immunity for Equivac HeV and pleased this work has resulted in a positive outcome for horse owners and the equine industry", she added.
The Hendra virus can be fatal to both horses and humans. Vaccination is the single most effective way of reducing the risk of Hendra virus infection in horses. By vaccinating horses, owners are also protecting themselves, their families and anyone who comes into contact with horses.
Horse owners are reminded to speak with their vet to ensure their horses are vaccinated and compliant with required boosters.
EARLIER: 'I didn't want that fear again': Hendra scares prompt vaccine
AN ANXIOUS three-day wait for a Hendra test result were the worst days of Carol Backhouse's life.
The Kandanga horse trainer has become an advocate for Hendra vaccination after a series of scares and close calls with the virus.
Every horse that comes into Backhouse Training Stables now needs to be vaccinated against Hendra.
Her husband Warren Backhouse was in Hendra when the outbreak first struck in 1994.
"He was a professional farrier down there, and he was working on horses next to them when they were lifting the bodies of the horses out of the stables with a crane," Mrs Backhouse said.
"That was when no-one really knew what was going on."
Years passed, and the couple had to take a horse down to Redlands for a lameness check.
"One horse on the other side (of the stable), which just so happened to belong to a friend of ours, ended up dying of Hendra," she said.
When Mrs Backhouse asked for water for their horse, one of the attendants suggested they use the barrel their friends' horse was using.
Mrs Backouse refused, and watered the horse from a clean bucket instead.
"Thank god," Mrs Backhouse said.
"About four to six weeks later they turned up, all suited up to test the horse."
The results came back negative, but the pair felt like they were on a knife's edge.
Veterinarian Justin Schooth of Gympie Veterinary Services said they had to consider every sick horse a suspected Hendra virus case.
That puts significant stress on horse owners and trainers like the Backhouses.
"Every time something went wrong, we panicked," Mrs Backhouse said.
"We'd wanted to vaccinate when it first came out, but we weren't sure because there were all the horror stories going around about all the stallions going sterile.
"So we put it off and we put it off."
Then a mare was found dead in her paddock.
Masked and gloved, the veterinarian took a blood sample before they buried the horse and sterilised all the equipment.
"It was just an ordeal," she said.
"I said, 'Right, that's it, come and (vaccinate) all the horses on the property.'"
She eventually gained permission from all the horse owners, and has since vaccinated about 60 horses with no ill effects on semen or pregnancies.
"They're all vaccinated the minute they come in," she said.
"I didn't want that fear again.
"My grandchildren play with these horses."
Mr Schooth has never had to deal with a confirmed Hendra case, but is likely to investigate a suspected case each week.
Despite delivering thousands of vaccine doses since Hendra vaccination became available, he said Australia had extremely poor rates in all horse vaccinations compared to European horse owners.
"We just don't have a vaccination culture," he said.
He said Hendra was a deadly disease to both horses and humans.
"If you catch it off your horse and don't die, you're likely to be in a bad way for the rest of your life," he said.