As a horse owner, you’d already be aware that Hendra virus is one of the deadliest diseases affecting horses and can also kill humans. In fact, of the seven Australians infected with Hendra virus, only three are alive today. Hendra virus is a year-round threat, but did you know that the cooler winter months are associated with increased numbers of outbreaks? So make sure you and your horses are prepared.
Peak outbreaks occur during winter
Hendra virus is a notifiable disease, which means that all outbreaks must be reported to government authorities. From these reports, it’s clear that although the risk of Hendra virus is present throughout the year, the largest number of outbreaks occur during the cooler months.
Graph created from outbreak reports collected by Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries available here.
Hendra is spreading
It is also known that Hendra virus outbreaks are occurring over a wider geographic area. Fruit bats (flying foxes) are the natural hosts of Hendra virus. Fruit bats with evidence of exposure to the virus have been found in every mainland state and territory of Australia. This means that horses throughout the country are at risk of this deadly virus (click here for full details of past outbreaks). Fruit bats are known to travel hundreds of kilometres in several days, which means that horses could be at risk even if there are no bats colonies near a property. Horses that travel or compete interstate may also be at risk of contracting or spreading the disease.
Number of cases is increasing
The number of Hendra cases is also increasing. For example, 5 cases were reported in the 10 years from 1994 to 2004, but from 2011 to 2014, the number of cases skyrocketed to 33. The most recent outbreak occurred in March 2014 in an unvaccinated horse in Bundaberg, Queensland which had to be euthanased.
Hendra has an alarming fatality rate
Hendra virus has an alarming fatality rate in both horses and humans. In horses, the fatality rate is 100% – even if the virus does not initially kill the horse, the horse must be euthanased to prevent spread to other horses or people. Up to March 2014, Hendra virus has resulted in the deaths of more than 90 horses. In humans, the virus has killed over half of those infected, with a fatality rate of 57%.
Risk of exposure at horse events
Unfortunately, the risk of Hendra virus doesn't stop at the farm gate. If your horse is at an event or on a property where there is an outbreak and your horse is not vaccinated, it will need to be quarantined for up to 30 days. If found to be infected with Hendra virus, your horse will have to be euthanased.
There's no cure for Hendra, so vaccinate today
Unlike some diseases, there's no cure for Hendra virus and no treatment. The only effective way to prevent the virus infecting horses or humans is through vaccination. The Hendra vaccine is scientifically proven to safely and effectively reduce the risk of infection. During the most recent outbreak in Bundaberg, Biosecurity Queensland urged horse owners to contact their vets to have their horses vaccinated to help protect horses and themselves.
Don't risk Hendra virus. Vaccinate before it's too late. Ask your vet about the Hendra vaccine today.