Vets fear deadly Hendra virus

OAKEY equine veterinarian Joe Weir admits many involved in the equine industry fear the fatal Hendra virus.

Hendra virus has claimed the lives of two vets in the past 12 months, the most recent being Dr Alister Rodgers, who died on Tuesday after contracting Hendra virus from a sick horse on a stud farm near Rockhampton.

Dr Rogers' death comes nearly 12 months after Brisbane vet Ben Cunneen died from the virus.

Seven people are known to have contracted the virus and only three have survived.

All the cases have been detected in Queensland and all after close contact with the body fluids of infected horses.

Weir admits many vets are fearful of the disease.

“There is a lot of emotion within the equine industry at the present time. I know particular vets who are very emotional about the situation,” Weir said.

“The vet profession will not tolerate the continual risk of colleagues. We have to come up with a solution.

“It is very upsetting knowing 15 years after the first recorded outbreak of this disease that you can still be potentially infected completing the day-to-day tasks of your job.

“I hope the message is not lost over the next period of time. This is an emerging disease in Australia and while the risk is low, the number of times vets, owners, trainers and riders are placed at risk of potential infection is huge.”

Weir joined his colleagues around the nation in calling for greater research into the virus, with the hope of creating either a vaccine for humans or horses.

With medical professionals yesterday announcing it could take 15 years to develop a human Hendra virus vaccine, Weir acknowledged equine industry workers would have to work to protect themselves.

He said the nature of the virus made early detection difficult, as initial horse symptoms were similar to those presented by other illnesses.

“We're working with a disease that has the potential to be fatal and can present acutely and not always with very obvious clinical signs so it is a challenge as far as protecting ourselves from it,” Weir said.

“From my own perspective I see 10 cases a month that fit the description of elevated temperature with respiratory signs.

“To isolate every horse that shows respiratory and neurological signs and elevated temperature is extremely difficult and if this were to be done, the number of false alarms, compared to the number of protections, would be huge and community tolerance of such a system would not be great.”

The vet profession will not tolerate the continual risk of colleagues. We have to come up with a solution. - equine veterinarian Joe Weir

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