Warning, rain and flooding increases risk of Hendra virus
FLOODING carries with it some obvious dangers, but one deadly concern could be overlooked.
The potentially fatal Hendra virus poses a serious risk during flooding and veterinarians are keen to get this message out to horse-owners in the Northern NSW region as wet weather continues.
Murwillumbah vet, Isabel O'Brien said this time of year is always risky, but conditions were particularly bad this year.
"Prevention and precaution are the key strategies," she said.
"While we have a Hendra vaccine, it's best to avoid contraction of the virus."
Ms O'Brien said fruits like mango were in abundance this year, a major attraction for the virus' host, the flying fox.
"It's not easy to keep horses from trees, but it is imperative," Ms O'Brien said.
"The simple premise is to keep the bats and the horses apart."
The Hendra virus occurs naturally in flying foxes, and horses are thought to contract it by ingesting feed or water contaminated with flying fox body fluids and excretions.
Flying foxes are more likely to excrete Hendra virus if they are stressed and the loss of food due to the floods can increase stress levels resulting in a higher risk of viral shedding.
The migration of stressed bats to non-flood affected regions could also result in the spread of the virus.
Dr Ben Gardiner, president of the Australian Veterinary Association said it was vital for veterinarians and those who work with horses to take precautions, such as wearing protective clothing and practicing good hygiene, to safeguard against infection.
"The recently released Hendra horse vaccine is also a significant step toward breaking the cycle of Hendra virus transmission, as it can stop the horse from both developing the disease and passing it on", said Dr Gardiner.
"But I urge local horse owners not to be complacent and to take immediate action to prevent infection following the potentially increased risk of transmission brought by the flood."