Hendra Virus Continues To Unsettle Queenland Racing

By: Sarah Fortnum
July 7th, 2011

With the Grafton Carnival in full swing, the Queensland racing industry is hastily trying to control the recent Hendra Virus outbreak in the state’s south-east.

Coffs Harbour Racing chief executive Russ Atkinson is working hard to keep people calm despite the recent scares.

“They haven’t certainly quarantined any areas, they’ve quarantined farms etcetera where the individual horses have been stabled,” Mr Atkinson said.

“Most of these horses aren’t necessarily racing stock in training.”

While he concedes that the possibility of further spreading was a worry, Mr Atkinson feels the racing industry is well-equipped to deal with such problems.

“But obviously if there was a major outbreak that circumstance could change but in the thoroughbred industry they do have very strict quarantine arrangements if needed,” he said.

“Let us hope it doesn’t get to stopping horses coming down from the north.”

Mr Atkinson understands that the Hendra Virus could cripple the horse racing industry if it could not be contained.

“I think Hendra’s one of the scariest things for those in the horse industry because it’s a virus that mutates from the horse across to humans,” Mr Atkinson said.

“Considering that it seems to be bat transmitted it’s a concern because we do have bat colonies right up and down the coast.”

The racing industry is turning to the regional health authorities, such as Biosecurity Queensland, for guidance on how to proceed.

“It really is something that I think we’ll all watch and we’ll take a lot of advice from our vets and the regional health authorities,” Mr Atkinson said.

The fear continues, with a sixth horse reportedly dying after contracting the virus in what appears to be a separate outbreak at Logan, south of Brisbane, today.

Queensland Chief Veterinary Officer Rick Symons attributed the recent outbreaks to an unusually high prevalence of the virus amongst flying foxes; the animal the disease begins in.

“We … collect urine from under trees where flying foxes are roosting and then sample that urine for Hendra virus,” Dr Symons said.

“What we’ve found out … is a higher proportion of samples with Hendra virus.

”Horses are more likely to get Hendra virus because of that increased prevalence in the flying fox population and this is why we’re seeing these cases.”

Dr Symons said that while there were no other horses at the scene of the most recent outbreak, adjoining properties would be quarantines to negate the risk of spreading.

“There are horses on neighbouring properties so we are currently addressing the need to quarantine properties in the immediate area,” he said.

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