Hendra virus is carried by flying foxes that inhabit our local region and they appear unaffected. However, Hendra virus is a fatal disease in horses and humans. In humans, the mortality rate is 60% and there is the potential for chronic debilitating illness in those who do not die.
A large range of clinical signs are possible in horses that contract Hendra virus. Symptoms seen in confirmed cases have included colic, respiratory disease, neurological signs and others have simply presented as dull, depressed and off their food. They may have high, normal or even low temperatures. The onset of disease can be severe and rapid or slow and vague. Some cases occur with no known activity of flying foxes.
Due to the highly variable nature of Hendra virus in horses, it is not possible to know if a horse does or does not have Hendra virus without testing of samples by the government laboratory. Results can take 1 to 2 days to receive.
Work health and Safety (WH&S) risk evaluation classifies the likelihood of a person contracting Hendra virus as possible/rare but the consequences of contraction (death) is extreme/high. If a vet needs to attend an unvaccinated horse that is unwell, we have to use personal protective gear and may not be able to undertake some treatments until Hendra test results are received. This can add significantly to the cost of seeing your horse and delay potentially vital treatments.
Government agencies such as the NSW DPI state that “Vaccination against Hendra virus is the single most effective way to prevent Hendra infection and vaccinating horses is an important measure to prevent human infection.”
To vaccinate your horse two initial vaccinations are given 3 to 6 weeks apart. The next dose is 6 months later and from then on, an annual booster is given. Results of vaccine testing show the vaccine is highly effective.
For the safety of your horses, your family members and all those who work with your horses, please vaccinate your horses against Hendra Virus.