Hendra Virus in Horses

In July 2013 there was an outbreak of Hendra Virus on the Mid North Coast. There were four confirmed cases of Hendra virus in horses on separate properties between Macksville and Kempsey. Six properties were quarantined and monitored (tested) for any new cases or signs of spreading. All four horses involved have since died (or were euthanised).

Vets in the Mid North Coast area vaccinated over 1200 horses during that month.

What is going on?

There is evidence of Hendra virus in about 50% of the flying foxes around Australia. The flying foxes are all over the eastern seaboard of Australia', as shown in this map link and we should expect to see Hendra cases anywhere there are flying foxes and horses. Hendra cases seem to ‘spike’ around July of each year, unknown ‘stress factors’ affect the flying foxes and more research is needed.

State-wide situation

The Hunter Valley’s Coolmore Stud will not take any unvaccinated horses. Many vets are now insisting on only seeing vaccinated horses (particularly in the Hunter Valley).

Equestrian NSW's policy since 1 January 2014, is that all horses entering EA/FEI events in NSW, where any horses stay overnight at the event venue (ie Hendra Vaccinated Events - HVE) must be vaccinated against the virus.

Symptoms of Hendra

The symptoms are varied, with some horses showing rapid onset of severe signs of respiratory or neurological problems/symptoms and the horse may shift uncomfortably between legs. Some horses are simply found dead, as was the case in Macksville.  Initially we thought that all cases would show a high temperature (fever), however recently this has not been the case.

Treatment and prevention

There is currently NO treatment for Hendra virus. All unprotected horses that become exposed to and contract the virus will die, either from the actual disease or be euthanised due to the human health risks. No horse has survived the Hendra virus!

Also a major concern for horse owners and attending vets is that 4 out of the 7 people who have contracted the virus have died.

To protect your horses, yourself, your employees and your family, we urge all horse owners to vaccinate their horses as soon as possible. Two doses given 3-6 weeks apart by an accredited veterinarian with a microchip (if not already microchipped), in order to accurately identify each horse will provide protection 3-6 weeks after the second vaccine. A booster will also be required at 6 months.

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes!  The vaccine for Hendra has been available since November 2012 and since then thousands of horses have been vaccinated and protected from the disease, including hundreds of pregnant mares (Coolmore stud vaccinated over 400 of their mares). There have been very few incidences of reactions recorded (less than 0.25%) with the greatest percentage of which have been mild and transient and no more than would be expected with any vaccine administration. Vaccinated horses have also been exported overseas, including to the Middle East, without any issues.

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