Zoonotic Hendra Virus Reported on North Queensland Farm

Biosecurity Queensland is managing another case of Hendra virus infection on a property outside Bowen in North Queensland after test results on a deceased horse came back positive for the virus.

Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Rick Symons, BVSc, MBA, PhD, said last week a private vet had reported a suspect case to Biosecurity Queensland after attending a sick horse on the property. The horse was euthanized Tuesday.

"The vet attended the horse over several days last week and samples were taken and forwarded to Brisbane for testing, Symons said. "The sample results came back last night as positive and we immediately began implementing control procedures. There is one other horse on the property, which is healthy. A third horse on the same property died one month ago but we do not have any samples to test. The property is under quarantine.

"There are a number of horses on an adjoining property and Biosecurity Queensland officers are working with the owner to assess what if any exposure there has been to the most-recently deceased horse," Symons said.

Staff will also speak to residents in the immediate area today and provide the latest information about Hendra virus.

Fruit bats (also called flying foxes) indigenous to Australia appear to be Hendra's natural host. In past outbreaks, humans have become infected by handling infected horses. Hendra virus has a mortality rate of 70-80% in horses, and 50% in infected people.

Veterinarian Alister Rodgers, BVSc, died earlier this month after treating a foal with Hendra virus on a Cawarral property. Rodgers was the fourth known human fatality from the illness since it was discovered in 1994. Four horses on that property also died or were euthanized.

Symons said veterinarians who attended the Bowen horse had been wearing appropriate protective clothing.

"Following the recent tragic events surrounding the Hendra outbreak at Cawarral near Rockhampton, there is a greater awareness amongst vets and horse owners of the risks associated with Hendra virus," Symons said. "We encourage vets, horse owners, and the community to be vigilant and report any suspected cases of Hendra virus to Biosecurity Queensland, and most importantly, to take appropriate precautions when handling any sick horse.

"In a typical week we are testing as many as four samples for routine exclusion. In 2008 we tested more than 200 samples and so far this year we have tested more than 100," Symons said.

The Cawarral property is to remain under quarantine until released by Biosecurity Queensland.

See the latest information about Hendra virus.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.