TAKING no chances- Stephanie Wright of Murwillimbah Veterinary Clinic.
TAKING no chances- Stephanie Wright of Murwillimbah Veterinary Clinic. Craig Sadler/ Tweed Daily News

Vets warn of deadly virus

MURWILLUMBAH veterinarians alarmed by the consequences of deadly Hendra virus are launching an urgent campaign to warn horse owners to stay away from their beloved animals if they become sick.

The vets, who along with staff and horse owners face a 50 per cent likelihood of dying if they catch the virus from a sick or dead horse, have warned it is present on the Tweed and possibly spreading.

“We have to suit up to treat any suspicious case,” said Dr Stephanie Wright from the Murwillumbah Veterinary Clinic, adding she was alarmed that horse owners, including young teenage girls who love their pets, might try to comfort and even pet their animals if they become sick.

That would put them at “high risk” of becoming infected themselves.

“Our plan is to do a letter drop warning owners and to have a meeting,” said Dr Wright.

“What's concerning me is the clinical signs are changing. Affected horses can show non- descript signs that you would just normally think indicate a bit of colic or similar.”

One horse which contracted the virus and was diagnosed by Murwillumbah Veterinary Clinic three years ago was put down. In the past month the same clinic has had to send off three samples to the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) for testing to exclude the virus, which is spread from flying foxes to horses then to humans. Fortunately all have been negative so far.

Late last month the virus killed Rockhampton vet Alister Rodgers, sparking calls in Queensland this week for horse owners to be allowed to axe trees near stables where the bats might roost.

In NSW the DPI has urged horse owners to keep their animals and their feed away from areas where bats camp.

Dr Wright said she wanted to warn horse owners not to “pet or get close to” sick horses until the cause of the illness is determined. Owners should instead immediately call a vet or the district veterinarian for advice.

They should not feed horses in areas where bats roost, and if horses eat grass under bat roosts, fence the area off.

Deadly history:
• Hendra virus affects horses and humans and is spread by flying foxes.
• Half the people to become infected have died.
• First emerged in August and September 1994 when 13 horses died in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra. • The horse Drama Series became the first recorded death from the virus, which then infected two people who were in contact with the horse.
• One was prominent horse trainer Vic Rail, who subsequently died.

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