Thursday, May 20, 2010

Horse dies from Hendra virus at Tewantin as seven people at risk to be tested

May 20, 2010 9:07PM
VIRUS THREAT: Cooroy veterinarian Ben Poole warns horse owners and other vets to be on alert after one of his staff treated the infected horse. Pic: Megan Slade Source: The Courier-Mail
UP to seven Queenslanders are waiting to find out if they have the potentially fatal Hendra virus.
The dreaded bat-to-horse-to-human disease has returned to haunt southeast Queensland's equine industry after tests on Thursday confirmed a horse put down on Monday at Tewantin, west of Noosa, had the virus.

"It was twitching, it was circling, it was wobbly," Cooroy veterinarian Ben Poole, who had a staff member treat the horse, said.

The mother and daughter owners, believed to have kept the horse as a pet, are two of up to seven people waiting to hear if they have the virus.

Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin said residents on surrounding properties would be contacted about the outbreak.

"We are taking the situation very seriously and are working closely with the property owners and the vet involved and will be contacting neighbours as soon as possible," he said.

Biosecurity Queensland chief biosecurity officer Ron Glanville said the veterinarian who treated the horse had been wearing full protective clothing, including a mask and gloves.

"He suspected Hendra but also other causes such as toxicity but he did the appropriate thing and got the samples back," Mr Glanville said.

"We take any case very seriously. This is a disease that is not highly infectious but if you do get it, is something very serious.

"It certainly has higher than a 50 per cent mortality rate in any horse or person who gets it."

Results of preliminary blood tests on people who came in contact with the sick horse are expected Friday morning.

The property where the horse fell sick is in an area where fruit bats are present. But it is not yet known how the dead animal, buried on the property, contracted the virus or if the other horse on the property has also been infected.

Four Queenslanders have died over the past 16 years after contracting the virus from horses, out of a total of seven cases of the virus in humans.

The most recent outbreak near Rockhampton last August caused the death of veterinary surgeon Alister Rodgers.

Dr Christine Selvey, of Queensland Health Communicable Diseases Branch, said follow-up tests would be done in three weeks.

Hendra's flu-like initial symptoms include runny nose, sore throat or cough. Those could be accompanied by severe headache and other neurological symptoms such as drowsiness, Dr Selvey said.

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