Hendra-carrying bats move south

THE Hendra Virus may move south to Southern Queensland, Northern New South Wales and the Tweed area warns a Sydney professor.

Professor Lesley Hughes, of Sydney's Macquarie University, says that bats once only found in the north are now seen as far south as Melbourne.

Recent research shows that the fruit bats which carry the virus have moved about 800 kilometres south in the past 80 years, bringing with them Hendra and other viruses.

“So many have shifted from Queensland into Northern New South Wales that they are no longer considered threatened in Northern New South Wales,” said Professor Hughes.

With more than 1.2 million horses in Australia, all are at risk if they live and graze on pastures near where bats roost or under their flight paths.

This increased risk means that horse owners need to keep a close eye on their pets, watching out for any signs of illness, especially respirator problems.

Horse breeder of 20 years, MaryAnne Leighton, has worked in many local and national studs, often in the middle of Hendra hot zones but is against killing bats.

“It is of great concern because we know that bats fly over the property at dusk ... but I think it is unreasonable to kill the bats (one proposed solution to the problem). They're a threatened species, so horse owners need to put in safe management practices.”

Local vets are warning all owners to be alert for the disease and to seek help immediately if they believe their horse is sick.

Hendra is believed to be the world's rarest disease, with only seven human infections, four resulting in death.

44 horses have died or been euthanised after contracting the disease.

Horses can recover from Hendra, but all are euthanised if they return a positive result for the virus.

Little is known about the disease, as symptoms, severity, incubation times and how the virus spreads varies widely.

The virus has only been found in horses kept in paddocks and yards rather than stables.

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