Vets and horse owners need to work together to prevent Hendra virus spillovers

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Tuesday, 21 August, 2012

Cartoon by Ken Miller to illustrate horse owners ignoring veterinary instructions (Mendez et al 2012).

Veterinarians and horse owners are at increased risk of spillover of Hendra virus (HeV) from infected horses. Both need to employ effective hygiene strategies to decrease their risks. Veterinarians attending a horse with HeV are legally responsible for the safety of horse owners and any other assistants. In a poster presented at the Zoonosis Conference in Sydney at the end of July, Diana Mendez, a veterinarian working on improving infection control in equine veterinary practice, highlighted the issues Queensland veterinarians experienced in working with horse owners. Some of these included: horse owners ignoring HeV risk warnings; refusing to comply with safety instructions; and refusing to have their horses tested for HeV when this was clinically indicated.

However, veterinarians also suggested solutions such as: explaining clearly to owners what the HeV risks are and their importance; bringing their own trained assistant; refusing to deal with a horse unless the owner complies with safety instructions; always documenting proceedings for workplace health and safety reasons.

One recommendation was that some veterinarians may need training or coaching in effective client management strategies.

Download the poster here. Mendez D, Miller K, Judd J, Speare R. Risk communication between veterinarians and horse owners: a key factor in the management of Hendra virus. Zoonosis Conference 2012. Australian Society for Infectious Diseases, Australian Veterinary Association and Sydney Emerging Infectioins and Biosecurity Institute, Sydney: 27-28 July 2012.