Deadly virus threat at Ballina stable

A BALLINA racehorse stable was under quarantine last night as Government vets awaited further test results for the potentially deadly Hendra virus.

Early results from one horse showing symptoms of the rare virus proved inconclusive, with one test showing a weak, positive result and another negative.

The test was repeated with the same results. Yesterday's test sought to find evidence that the virus had once been in the horse's blood and that, too, proved negative.

In fact, all 15 horses in the stable were tested and all returned negative results.

But Department of Primary Industries vets remained cautious, highlighting the fact that little was known about the rare virus.

Meanwhile 12 people who came in close contact with the horse, which has since recovered, had their blood screened for the virus and NSW Health has stepped in to advise stable hands and trainers how to deal with the potentially deadly illness.

Hendra virus outbreaks are rare and are not easily spread, but require the highest level of bio-security once reported.

There is no vaccine for the virus and no known cure.

Hendra virus claimed the life of one horse last month at Cannondale in North Queensland, following an unrelated outbreak at a veterinary clinic near Brisbane a week earlier that killed two horses.

According to North Coast Public Health director Paul Corben, Hendra virus was believed to be transmitted from flying foxes to horses through urine and faeces. Bat droppings in horse feed was one possible link.

First reported in 1994 in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra, the initial outbreak claimed the life of well-known trainer Vic Rail and 14 of his racehorses.

There is no evidence of the virus being transmitted from human-to-human, or from bat-to-human.

Acting chief vet with NSW Department of Primary Industries, Ian Roth, said the affected horse initially showed signs of a 'flu like virus on July 22 but results did not come through until last Sunday.

"Given the serious nature of this disease we felt it was prudent to quarantine the property," he said.

Staff at the stable were notified on Sunday morning that the horse returned a weak positive result.

Queensland Health says of the state's four recorded human cases of Hendra virus, two were fatal and the result of close contact with sick horses.

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