Sydney's harness racing home, Bankstown Paceway, has backed a warning by the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) for horse owners, trainers, drivers and stable hands to take precautions against the deadly Hendra virus as the season for infections approaches.
Bankstown Paceway director Megan Lavender today called for vigilance by the harness racing industry in the fight against the bat-borne virus which has killed four of the seven humans who have been infected and caused the deaths of more than 40 horses since it was discovered in Australia in 1994.
‘Bankstown Paceway shares with all participants in Australia's equine industries our concerns about this diabolical disease and its potentially devastating impact on hard working families and our beloved horses,' Ms Lavender said.
‘With the Bankstown local government area populated by one of Sydney's largest concentrations of flying foxes or fruit bats, horse owners, trainers, drivers and stable hands must be even more cautious in adopting preventative measures against Hendra,' she said.
‘These preventative measures include:
(1) placing feed and water under cover where possible, and not placing feed and water under trees when flying foxes are in the area;
(2) not using feed that might attract flying foxes, such as fruit and vegetables, and not leaving out food scraps that could attract these animals; and
(3) where possible, removing horses from paddocks where flying foxes are active, and fencing off trees where they roost.
‘The few cases of human Hendra virus infection have been the result of very close contact with horses infected with the virus - with body fluids or secretions from infected animals are likely to contain the virus,' Ms Lavender said.
‘Accordingly, the risk of people contracting the disease can be greatly reduced by adopting good hygiene practices, as a matter of routine, and taking increased precautions around any sick horse,' she said.
‘First and foremost, it is also important to wash your hands with both soap and water regularly before, during and after handling horses, and to minimise contact with your horse if he or she is unwell,' Ms Lavender added.
AVA president Barry Smyth strongly urged horse owners to contact their veterinarian immediately if they notice health problems in their horses or suspect that they may be infected with the Hendra virus.
‘There are still lots of gaps in our knowledge about how Hendra spreads, and we don't know what effect the recent record wet weather will have,' Dr Smyth said.
‘Common signs to look out for include respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated body temperature (above 40°C), and elevated heart rate. However, it is important to realise there are no specific signs of infection,' he said.
‘So far cases of Hendra infection have been restricted to Queensland and New South Wales, but there is potential for the disease wherever there are flying foxes.
‘Humans contract the disease from horses. There has been no human-to-human transmission of the disease, nor direct transmission from bats to humans,' Dr Smyth added.
The majority of Hendra outbreaks have occurred during June and October - but, last year, a horse in Tewantin contracted the virus in May.
Megan J. LAVENDER