Second death of new Hendra virus strain confirmed in horses near Newcastle

A new strain of the deadly Hendra virus has killed a horse in the New South Wales Hunter region.

The Department of Primary Industries confirmed that the virus was discovered in a seven-year-old unvaccinated Clydesdale from West Wallsend.

A private veterinarian diagnosed the case on Tuesday and it was confirmed at the Australian Center for Disease Preparedness yesterday.

The horse was killed and no other horses on the property showed signs of ill health, DPI said.

“DPI has routinely tested all Hendra submissions over the past six months for the variant Hendra strain following a retrospective detection by researchers in a Queensland horse,” it said.

The property was locked inside and Hunter Local Land Services issued a biosecurity direction to control the movement of animals and humans for 21 days.

Black and spectacled foxes.
Flying foxes are the main carriers of the Hendra virus.(

Delivered

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Link to previous horse deaths

The West Wallsend horse was the second in Australia to be confirmed dead of the new variant, which, like the original virus, is transmitted to horses from flying foxes.

The first was a horse at Gympie in Queensland in 2015, but researchers first made this link earlier this year.

Australia’s equine veterinarian Steve Dennis said the new strain had been linked to a massive flying fox death in Adelaide’s botanical gardens and was “as deadly as the original”.

“And it’s probably going to be just as dangerous for humans, too,” he said.

Dr Dennis believed that a number of horse deaths could be linked to the new strain, but without testing, veterinarians would never know how many.

But he said flying foxes “should not be demonized” because of the transmission.

“They are critical species for our ecosystems.”

Dr.  Steve Dennis, EVA Chairman
Steve Dennis says it is a “no-brainer” for owners to vaccinate their horses.(

Supplied by: Australian Veterinary Association

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Case so far south not surprising

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) said the case was a concern but not a surprise.

“It is furthest south that a positive case has been diagnosed, but this is not necessarily surprising as gray-headed flying foxes are confirmed to host the HeV variant,” it states.

The other horses and human contacts on the Wallsend property were monitored, it added.

“Their state of health will be monitored daily; public health officers from NSW Health will conduct risk assessments of all people who have had contact with the infected horse.

The association encouraged everyone around sick horses to wear personal protective equipment.

Government officials said most Hendra cases in New South Wales had been on the North Coast; a case at Scone in 2019 is the most southern case to date.

Veterinarian checks the temperature of the horse suspected of having infected the Hendra virus.  (file photo)
The original strain has mostly been detected in northern NSW and Queensland. (File photo)(

ABC Rural: Kim Honan

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Vaccination best defense

DPI said vaccinating horses was the most effective way to help deal with Hendra virus disease.

“As we have seen again with COVID, a vaccine is a really good, powerful tool for us to be able to try to prevent the severity of the disease or even death in this particular case,” said DPI chief veterinarian Sarah Britton.

There have been 24 horse deaths in NSW as a result of the Hendra virus on 23 properties since the first case in 2006, the department said.

“There have been no human deaths from the Hendra virus in NSW.

“Signs of infection are nonspecific in the early stages, and anyone concerned about possible Hendra infection should isolate the horse and seek veterinary advice.”

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