Fruit bats spread the deadly Hendra virus.
Fruit bats spread the deadly Hendra virus. Brett Wortman

Nine to be tested for Hendra

A YOUNG girl is among nine people potentially exposed to the deadly Hendra virus on the Sunshine Coast.

They all came in contact with a horse infected with the virus that was put down on Monday at a property at Tewantin.

Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young says blood samples of the nine were taken on Thursday and preliminary results should be known on Friday.

"The first test only gives us a baseline, it doesn't give us any answer about any exposure to this horse," Dr Young told reporters in Brisbane.

"It will only show whether they've ever been exposed to Hendra virus in the past through another horse. So we expect them all to be negative."

Dr Young said the virus can incubate for up to 21 days, and the nine will be retested.

"That test will tell us if the person has any result due to exposure to this horse, then we do a test at 42 days post initial exposure just to clear it.

"It's a very difficult time for them.

"No one at this point in time is showing any symptoms."

Most of the people tested don't live on the property.

Dr Young said a child was among those tested, but said it was not known whether the young were at greater risk.

"We know very little about this virus - the one thing we do know, is it is very hard to catch," she said.

Biosecurity Queensland has put the property under quarantine.

Chief veterinary officer Ron Glanville said it was hoped the virus had not spread to other horses.

"The infected horse hadn't been off the property this year," he said.

A second horse from the property is currently healthy.

Vet 'doing well'

A VET exposed to the deadly Hendra virus on the Sunshine Coast is 'doing well' after taking precautions before treating a horse which had to be put down.

Ben Poole, manager of the Cooroora Veterinary Clinic at Cooroy, said the vet who was exposed to virus was not showing any symptoms of the disease at this stage.

“He did everything he could to avoid being infected and is believed to be at a low risk of contracting Hendra,” Mr Poole said.

“It’s still very concerning because he was exposed and the virus incubation period is not over.

“Hendra is something we’re very vigilant about because we know it could pop up at any time, so our vet made a risk assessment and acted quickly to report his suspicions.”

The vet was due to start leave so is awaiting results with his family at home.

Up to seven people who may have been exposed to a Hendra-infected horse at Tewantin will have to wait weeks to find out if they are clear of the life-threatening virus.

Preliminary tests are expected today, however.

The sick horse was put down after the vet visited the affected property on Monday.

The horse, reported to be owned by a mother and daughter who kept the horse as a pet, was described as twitching,  circling and wobbly.

A positive Hendra virus result was only confirmed yesterday.

Officers from Biosecurity Queensland and Queensland Health were on the property yesterday, talking to the owners and any other people who may have had contact with the horse.

It is the 41st horse to die from the illness, known to be carried by bats and passed on to horses through bodily fluids, since 1994.

Chief veterinary officer Dr Ron Glanville said up to seven people could have been in contact with the horse before it was put down on Monday.

He said the property owner noticed the horse's condition on Monday morning.

Dr Glanville said the vet, who was wearing protective equipment due to his suspicion of Hendra virus, examined the horse.

He said there was a bat colony in the area.

Another horse on the property had not shown any signs of the illness by last night.

Biosecurity officers have quarantined the property as a precautionary measure, with Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin saying the situation was being treated “very seriously”.

“Officers from Biosecurity Queensland will be on the ground in Tewantin tomorrow with information about the Hendra virus," Mr Mulherin said.

Queensland Health Communicable Diseases Branch senior director Dr Christine Selvey said all people who were identified as having been in close contact with the horse, including the owners, would be offered free testing and counselling.

Dr Selvey said there had only been seven confirmed cases of Hendra virus in humans and it was important to note there had been no cases of transmission from human to human.

“Anybody who's potentially come in contact with Hendra virus would be worried.

“And I think it's, obviously, a very scary disease for anybody.”

Dr Selvey said symptoms in humans generally presented within five to 21 days of exposure to the virus.

Queensland Horse Council president Debbie Dekker said most people believed that the Hendra virus was seasonal, coinciding with the flying fox breeding season, from June to August.

“We are fearful people get complacent because they think the Hendra virus is seasonal but this is proof that this is not the case,” Ms Dekker said.

“The fact is we don't know what the stresses are to cause bats to shed the virus. It's circulating in bats at all times – it can happen anytime.”

Four of seven people who have contracted the virus in Queensland have died.

Tewantin-Noosa Pony Club officials did not want to comment on the positive test last night.


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