Hendra Virus Safety Tips for Horse Owners Released

The Queensland government has released a safety alert for horse owners following several cases of Hendra virus, a rare but potentially fatal zoonotic virus that can pass from horses to humans. A veterinarian died earlier this month after treating an infected foal.  

Clinical signs of Hendra virus infection in horses can include rapid onset of illness, increased body temperature, increased heart rate, discomfort or weight shifting between legs, depression, respiratory, and neurologic signs. Not all of these signs will be found in any one infected horse.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland recommends:

Consider developing a plan for responding to a suspect, highly suspect or confirmed case of Hendra virus at your workplace, including how you will minimize the risk to yourself, your workers, and others such as visiting horse practitioners (farriers, etc.). You should then train your workers in the implementation of the plan.

You should also consider the following measures:

  • Take steps to protect horses from becoming infected with Hendra virus, such as by placing feed bins and water troughs away from areas where bats feed or roost.
  • Ensure safe systems of work as a routine work practice for all contact with horses, their blood and body fluids, and associated equipment. This includes regular hand hygiene, maintaining standards of cleanliness and stable hygiene, and cleaning and disinfecting equipment that has been in contact with the body fluids of horses.
  • If you have a sick horse, isolate the horse from other horses, people and animals (for example remove companion animals to another area) until you have obtained a veterinary opinion.
  • Avoid close contact with a 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. Use personal protective equipment to protect your clothing, exposed skin, and face from contact with the horse’s blood and body fluids. If this includes PPE that you and your workers are not familiar with, such as particulate respirators, provide training in its correct use. Cover cuts and abrasions with a water-resistant dressing and follow instructions for biosecurity and personal safety provided by a Biosecurity Queensland officer or veterinarian.
  • If you have handled a sick horse, and before contact with other horses, wash off any contamination with plenty of soap and water, shower and wash your hair and change your clothes. Arrange your activities so that you have contact with the sick horse last.
  • Always consider Hendra virus as a possible cause of illness in horses. Notify suspected Hendra virus cases by contacting Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries on 13 25 23 or the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888. There is a legal obligation to notify.
  • Seek medical advice or ring Queensland Health 13 HEALTH (1300 43 25 84) if you or a worker has had contact with a horse suspected or confirmed as being infected with Hendra virus.

More information on Hendra virus in horses is also available from the Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries at dpi.qld.gov.au or call 13 25 23, or your veterinarian.

Guidelines for veterinarians are also available.

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