Hendra hits close to home
A CASE of the dreaded Hendra virus has been confirmed at Wollongbar after the death of a horse on a property near the village yesterday.
It is only the second time the virus has been found in NSW – the first was in Murwillumbah six years ago – and comes only days after the discovery of the disease on a property near Beaudesert, south of Brisbane.
All other recorded cases of the disease have been confined to Queensland.
Confirming the discovery of the disease, which can be fatal to humans, the NSW Department of Primary Industries said there was no connection between the Wollongbar and Beaudesert cases.
A spokesman for the department said the Wollongbar property had been placed under quarantine, but transport of livestock around theregion – including for race meetings – was not affected.
It was believed the horse was on a private property.
In a written statement, NSW Chief Veterinary Officer Ian Roth said it was likely the Wollongbar horse got the disease from a flying fox.
“The horse had been in a paddock containing a fig tree, so it is likely that flying foxes were the source of infection,” he said.
“Hendra virus can spread from flying foxes to horses and, rarely, from horses to people.”
The virus shot to prominence in the mid-1990s when horse trainer Vic Rail died after contracting the disease from a horse he was caring for in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra. Since then three other people have died from the disease.
In the Wollongbar case Mr Roth said the only other horse on the property was in good health.
NSW Health Director of Health Protection Jeremy McAnulty said nine people had been in close contact with the infected horse.
All had been interviewed by staff from the Public Health Unit to determine their level of exposure and were being closely monitored.
An expert panel looking at the exposure of the nine people had ruled their exposure to the infected horse as “negligible” to “medium level”.
“All of the human infections that have occurred in the past have been linked to high level exposures to infected horses,” Dr McAnulty said.
Aside from two cases in NSW, including the Wollongbar infection, Queensland is the only place in the world known to have suffered Hendra outbreaks.
There have been 16 outbreaks since the virus was first detected in September 1994, including the one at Wollongbar and the one near Beaudesert last weekend.
So far, about 45 horses have been confirmed or are considered likely to have had Hendra, including 20 from the original 1994 outbreak.
Seven people have also contracted Hendra, including four who died.