Veterinarians and Hendra Virus: new studies

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Saturday, 3 August, 2013

Two papers by Diana Mendez and others (including THS Directors Rick Speare and Petra Buttner) just published in the August issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal highlight the importance of veterinarians in the control of Hendra virus (HeV) spillovers into horses. HeV is a virus carried by flying foxes in Australia and occasionally spills over to infect horses. Horses are amplifying hosts and can pass HeV onto humans. Veterinarians who treat horses play a very important role in protecting horse owners and other members of the public from HeV.

The first paper by Diana Mendez and her team looked at the issues that veterinarians in Queensland had with testing for HeV in horses in 2009-2010. Many of the problems identified have been addressed by government and the vet profession working together. However, access to laboratory services has arguably deteriroated since 2010. The Queensland government closed the regional laboratories at Toowomba and Townsville. Mendez et al (2013a) based on their 2010 data commented: "Veterinarians who were more distant from the HeV testing laboratory in Brisbane emphasised the difficulty in utilising laboratory services owing to higher costs and greater delays. At the time of our survey, veterinarians outside south-east QLD could submit diagnostic specimens to the closer regional government laboratories in Townsville and Toowomba. The decision by the state government to close these regional veterinary laboratories will remove this service, which is likely to exacerbate the access and cost problems because rural practitioners will no longer be able to submit specimens to these laboratories." One would conclude that this is not a good strategy to improve management of HeV outbreaks!

The second paper by the same team, based on a 2011 survey of Queensland veterinarians, noted that veterinarians wouldmaintain their infection control protocols when the HeV vaccine for horses is itroduced. Over 40% said they would refuse to examine horses that had not been vaccinated. The study was done prior to the mid-2012 introduction of the equine HeV vaccine. With the slow uptake of the HeV vaccine by horse owners, maybe veterinarians and government could work together to improve uptake.

References

Mendez D, Buttner P, Speare R. Response of Australian veterinarians to the announcement of a Hendra virus vaccine becoming available. Australian Veterinary Journal 2013;91(8):328-331. doi: 10.1111/avj.12092.
Mendez D, Judd J, Speare R. Difficulties experienced by equine veterinarians in testing for Hendra virus: 2009-2010. Australian Veterinary Journal 2013;91(8):323-327. doi: 10.111/avj.12091.

Hendra virus vaccine billboard - Townsville - June 2013. Photo by Diana Mendez

Posted by Rick Speare