HENDRA virus infection appeared in a horse at Scone, NSW, in the Thoroughbred cradle of Australia last week. Yet, at the same time, data shows there is a decrease in vaccination rates among Queensland racehorses.
The Queensland Racing Integrity Commission has just completed an audit on Hendra virus vaccination status of all Queensland Thoroughbred racehorses and for QRIC director of animal welfare and veterinary services Dr Martin Lenz the results are concerning.
Dr Lenz said the comparison between the numbers of horses fully vaccinated in 2016 (when the previous audit was undertaken) and now shows a consistent and concerning downward trend in full Hendra vaccination rates.
"We want to ensure that all horse breeders, owners and trainers are aware of the potentially devastating effect of Hendra virus infection. It is a highly lethal disease for horses and people and yet vaccination of horses is the number one method to help prevent it," Dr Lenz said.
The audit shows the following trends for vaccination rates of Thoroughbreds in all eight racing regions of Queensland:
- South East Queensland -6 per cent decrease.
- Far North Queensland - 11pc decrease.
- Eastern Downs - 1pc decrease.
- Leichardt - 6pc decrease.
- Downs - 2pc decrease.
- Capricornia - 3pc decrease.
- North West - 1pc decrease.
- Central West - no change, but this has historically been the area with the lowest vaccination uptake in Queensland.
"The QRIC has - through a previous research collaboration with the University of Sydney - established that there is no negative effect of Hendra vaccination on racing performance, so there is no reason for race horses to remain unvaccinated and we encourage everyone to ensure their animals are vaccinated," Dr Lenz said.
"The QRIC has for the second year in a row assisted the harness racing industry to microchip all foals and at the same time offers the first Hendra vaccination to all Standardbred foals free of charge," he said.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries advised last week that the deadly Hendra virus was confirmed in a horse at a property near Australia's horse capital of Scone - the most southern location the infection has been detected in Australia.
An unvaccinated mare on a Hunter Valley property developed neurological signs on Friday, June 7 three days after being confined to a yard. It was euthanased by the owners after becoming unresponsive. The department said that because the horse was not vaccinated and had a sudden onset of neurological signs, the owners contacted the animal diseases hotline.
A veterinarian from Hunter Local Lands Services visited the property on Sunday, June 9 to collect samples for testing and the Hendra infection - deadly to both horses and humans - was confirmed on Wednesday June 12.
The Scone outbreak brings the total number of confirmed cases to 84. The latest five incidents have all occurred in northern NSW at Scone (June 2019), Tweed Heads (September 2018), Murwillumbah (August 2017) and Lismore (July and August 2017) while the most recent outbreak in Queensland occurred on the Gold Coast hinterland in May 2017.