First Hendra outbreak confirmed west of the great divide

James Nason, 25/07/2011

The first confirmed outbreak of Hendra virus west of the Great Dividing Range has shattered the perception that horses and people in inland areas are safe from the lethal disease.

Biosecurity Queensland has confirmed that a horse which fell ill at Chinchilla on the western Darling Downs last Wednesday and died last Friday was killed by Hendra virus.

Well known and respected Chinchilla vet Sandi Jephcott, a former Australian Cattle Veterinarians' Association president, treated the horse and is waiting for test results to learn if she has contracted the disease.

She is one of 57 people who have been exposed to Hendra-infected horses in Queensland and NSW in the past five weeks and are now undergoing tests for the disease.

Hendra virus is carried by flying foxes but can be transmitted to horses, killing over 70pc of the horses it infects. It can also be transmitted from infected horses to humans. Since 1994 there have been 52 known horse deaths and four human deaths directly related to Hendra virus infections.

The Chinchilla horse death brings to 14 the number of horse deaths that have occurred as a result of Hendra virus infections since June 20, 2011. 10 horses have died in Queensland, with deaths also occurring in Beaudesert, Mt Alford, Park Ridge, Kuranda, Hervey Bay, Boondall and Logan, and four have died in NSW – two on one property near Wollongbar and two single-horse deaths near Macksville and Lismore.

Queensland Chief Biosecurity Officer Dr Jim Thompson said Biosecurity Queensland officers have quarantined the Chinchilla property and were working to establish if any other horses or people had come into recent contact with the infected horse.

"We understand there are four other horses on the property but full tracing is also being undertaken to locate any other horses that may have been in contact with the infected horse,” Dr Thompson said.

"Biosecurity Queensland and Queensland Health staff will be on the ground doorknocking neighbours to gather information on their animals and to provide them with information about Hendra virus.

"The property is being quarantined to restrict the movement of horses on and off. Each of the four remaining horses on the property will be sampled and undergo three rounds of testing before they are cleared – this is typically 30 to 35 days.

Queensland' Health chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said none of the people tested by Queensland Health so far had tested positive to the disease.

Dr Jephcott has been recovering from a near fatal horse accident last year. It is not been confirmed if she was wearing protective clothing when she tended to the sick horse last week.

Dr Jephcott is one of the livestock industry's best known veterinarians and regularly addresses industry field days and conferences on animal health and nutrition issues. She worked as a veterinarian and nutritionist for the Whyalla Feedlot at Texas in southern Queensland, Stanbroke Pastoral Company and Nutrition Services Associates. She purchased Chinchilla Veterinary Services in 2008.


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