Trainers, Owners put on Hendra Virus Alert / 05 May, 2011

Trainers and Owners are being warned to prepare for the deadly HENDRA VIRUS season.

The bat-borne virus has killed four of the seven humans who have been infected and caused the deaths of more than 40 horses since it was discovered in 1994.

Humans contract the disease from horses. There has been no human-to-human transmission of the disease nor direct transmission from bats to humans.

The majority of outbreaks have occurred during June and October, however last year a horse in Tewantin contracted the virus in May.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is warning horse trainers, owners and vets to take precautions, and to be on the lookout for any Hendra symptoms.

AVA president Dr Barry Smyth said human infections have been the result of close contact with the bodily fluids and secretions of infected horses.

"The risk can be greatly reduced by adopting good hygiene practices as a matter of routine and taking increased precautions around any sick horse," Dr Smyth said.

"It is also important to wash your hands with soap and water regularly before, during and after handling horses, and minimise contact with your horse if it is unwell."

He said there were no specific symptoms of infection in horses but some signs to look out for included respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated body temperature (above 40C) and elevated heart rate.

"So far cases of Hendra infection have been restricted to Queensland and New South Wales, but there is potential for the disease wherever there are flying foxes," Dr Smyth said.

Preventative measures include placing feed and water under cover and away from trees flying foxes may use to roost, not leaving out food scraps that could attract bats and keeping horses away from fields where the marsupials are active.

"There are still lots of gaps in our knowledge about how Hendra virus spreads and we don't know what effect the recent record wet weather will have," Dr Smyth said.