Vets take steps to reduce hendra risk
SPREADING THE MESSAGE: Gayndah vet Nathan Hitchcock, Mundubbera vet Anja Schmidt and hendra survivor Natalie Beohm get behind the vaccination drive in the North Burnett. IT COSTS little more than immunising a puppy, but many horse owners are putting off having their horses vaccinated against the life-threatening hendra virus due to the perceived expense.
The vaccine has been available since November 2012, and has proven highly effective against the incurable bat-borne virus, which has claimed the lives of four people and 80 horses since first identified in 1994.
So far the vaccine has received a mixed reaction in the equestrian community, with some rushing to get their animals vaccinated and many more holding off for varying reasons.
“Veterinarians and their staff are most at risk of contracting hendra virus and they account for all but one of the human cases,” Mundubbera veterinarian Dr Anja Schmidt said.
Dr Schmidt said there was a large range of clinical signs seen in horses that had contracted hendra virus, so it was often not immediately identified.
She said horses with hendra virus had been variously diagnosed with colic, snake bite, “choke”, or just presented as vaguely unwell. Infected horses have had a normal, high or low temperature.
Dr Schmidt is so concerned about hendra virus she will implement a policy at the clinic from December 1 to avoid any potential exposure, including refusal of service to unvaccinated horses.
Gayndah veterinarian Nathan Hitchcock is putting in place similar guidelines to protect himself and his staff.
“If I have to risk my life to do my job, it is not worth it,” Dr Hitchcock said.
“Most veterinarian surgeries will be putting the same safeguards in place – it is not just a few of us.”
But horse owners have hit back at the new policy.
“Instead of constantly hounding the horse owners, let’s get the government to subsidise the vaccines or do something about the overpopulation of bats,” Jeanine Hamilton said on Facebook.
“I agree there are questions about the vaccine, but have to say that we have foals being born now by a stallion that is vaccinated.
“We horse owners are not a bunch of idiots; we research and take the best course of action that we can for our individual situation.
“We have our competition horses that travel vaccinated, but a lot more that aren’t. I don’t believe that my unvaccinated horses at home are of any risk, nor do I think my vet is silly enough to arrive here unprepared when I’ve given a full list of symptoms.”