VETS and horse owners have been told to be on the lookout for a new disease in horses similar to the deadly Hendra virus.
Queensland’s chief veterinary officer Rick Symons said an increased incidence of severe neurological disease in horses had been reported in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
To date there had been move than 100 reported cases in NSW, 60 in South Australia and about 90 in Victoria, Dr Symons said.
He said most cases had gradually recovered during a one to three-week period but between 10 and 15 per cent of affected horses had died or were euthanased for welfare reasons.
Testing of samples from all affected states has ruled out other viruses such as Hendra virus.
Four people died from Hendra virus, all in Queensland, and all after close contact with the body fluids of infected horses.
Flying foxes are known to carry the virus, which is transmitted to horses and passed from horses to humans.
The new disease is carried by mosquitos.
Dr Symons said discussions with vets indicated there had not been an increase of nervous disease in Queensland horses.
However Ipswich vet Scott Campbell said the likeness to Hendra virus was enough to keep vets on the lookout.
“It hasn’t been seen in Queensland yet. But it appears similar to Hendra virus,” Dr Campbell said.
“That’s why we’re concerned about it.”
Dr Symons said the horse was usually a “dead-end” host for mosquito-borne infections; it was not likely they could infect people or other horses.
But because of the similarity to Hendra, protective clothing should be worn when dealing with horses potentially suffering neurological diseases. Mosquito bites should be reduced on people by covering up with light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing and covered footwear and regularly applying effective repellent on exposed skin.
Horse owners should reduce the exposure of their animals to insect bites by using registered repellents, rugs and fly masks especially in the mornings and early evenings.
There appear to be two distinct syndromes:
Muscle and joint pain.
Common clinical signs include but are not limited to:
Reluctance to walk.
Loss of co-ordination.
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