Vet fears Coffs Hendra outbreak

DAVID Johnson believes it is no longer a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

The local equine veterinary expert is urging horse owners to be particularly vigilant following another horse dying from Hendra virus in south-east Queensland.

Dr Johnson has been monitoring the virus and fears it is inevitable that the virus will be found locally.

“The virus is carried by fruit bats or flying foxes and is spread through their faeces, urine or reproductive fluids,” Dr Johnson said.

“Given the number of bats we have here there is no reason that Hendra won’t come to Coffs Harbour.”

The latest horse to be diagnosed with the Hendra virus was put down on a property near Noosa.

The virus first emerged in 1994 when 13 horses and the trainer Vic Rail died at stables in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra. Since then there have been 14 outbreaks of the lethal virus and four of six people to fall victim to it have died.

That two of those victims were veterinarians is something never far from Dr Johnson’s mind.

“We have a protocol in place and all the protective gear that is necessary,” he said.

Dr Johnson said horse owners should ensure their feed bins and water troughs are kept under cover so they can’t be contaminated by bat droppings. He also advised against feeding out fruit and foodstuffs that might be attractive to bats.

“The virus typically affects the respiratory system first and horses can descend into serious illness within a day. It is crucial you call a vet immediately if your horse starts running a fever or seems to be getting influenza or showing neurological distress.”

Dr Johnson said blood samples could be analysed within a day.

Yesterday it was announced that $300,000 had been allocated by the Queensland Government for the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories to develop a vaccine for Hendra virus.

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