Hendra virus may be on Downs

Health officials attend to horses at the J4S Equine Nursery at Cawarral outside of Rockhampton, Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009, after tests have confirmed a prized Anglo filly from the nursery died from Hendra virus on Saturday, with two other recent horse deaths on the property also believed to be due to the virus.
Health officials attend to horses at the J4S Equine Nursery at Cawarral outside of Rockhampton, Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009, after tests have confirmed a prized Anglo filly from the nursery died from Hendra virus on Saturday, with two other recent horse deaths on the property also believed to be due to the virus. AAP Image

QUEENSLAND'S acting chief veterinarian last night refused to identify a Darling Downs property where a horse which may be carrying the deadly Hendra virus is located.

The move comes despite growing calls for an increased response to the latest equine outbreak, following the damaging equine influenza (EI) epidemic which left hundreds stranded at Warwick's Morgan Park during the 2007 FEI World Cup Qualifier.

The Darling Downs horse is one of 11 moved from a quarantined property at Cawarral near Rockhampton where a filly has died from the disease - which can be spread by flying foxes - and whose owners are awaiting test results on 25 other horses.

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) confirmed on Tuesday night that 11 horses had been moved off the J4S Equine Nursery in recent weeks and taken to the Darling Downs, the Sunshine Coast and Manilla, north of Tamworth.

The Daily News yesterday sought details of the Darling Downs farm involved but acting chief vet Dr Rick Symons declined to release the horse's location due to privacy.

“This is our normal practice as the owners in these situations will simply be inundated with attention,” Dr Symons said.

“There is a very low risk this horse is carrying Hendra.”

Dr Symons said if the horse - which is being tested along with the 10 others moved off J4S - was found to be carrying Hendra the DPI would deal with the issue of identifying its location “at that time”.

It is not known if the horse shifted to the Downs is a registered breeding thoroughbred or when its test results will be available.

Dr Symons also said there was “no risk” to the Magic Millions sales at the Gold Coast this weekend where the J4S chestnut filly Jackowah's Regal Princess which died was to have been sold.

Queensland Thoroughbred Breeders president Bob Frappell last night suggested the DPI was being “secretive” about the location of the potentially-infected horse on the Darling Downs and said he was “frustrated by the way they hide behind privacy rules”.

“It worries me where that horse has gone - while I am sure the DPI has things under control it's about, you know, am I going to take a horse which has been in contact with it onto my property?” Mr Frappell said.

“Fortunately this is a more stable disease than EI in that a horse can't get it just through a sneeze or a cough, but it is also potentially fatal to humans.”

Ian Brady - the son of J4S owners John and Christine Brady - who manages the famed Wattle Brae stud at Nobby north of Warwick last night confirmed none of his parents' horses had been moved to Wattle Brae.

An emotional Mr Brady said his parents were now facing the loss of “their whole lifestyle” as positive results on their remaining horses would mean they could all be put down by tomorrow.

“None of Mum and Dad's horses have come to the farm (Wattle Brae) as they normally would this time of year,” Mr Brady said.

“But the biggest concern in this whole issue is for the people who work with Mum and Dad who are waiting on tests.

“(Stud manager) Debbie Brown is just a wonderful horse person.”

Hendra may have been contracted by up to 10 workers at the J4S property who came into contact with the dying filly's blood and nasal fluids as they fought to save her life.

They have now been swabbed for Hendra and face a tense wait of several days for results.

The virus can be fatal in humans who become infected with Hendra after direct exposure to secretions or tissue of sick horses and has claimed the life of three Queenslanders in recent years, including Brisbane vet Ben Cunneen last year.

Coincidentally, Wattle Brae is currently involved in legal action against the Federal Government over its handling of the EI outbreak in 2007.

The deaths of two other J4S horses at Cawarral in the past fortnight were unrelated to the Hendra outbreak.

Initial results of Biosecurity Queensland tests on the Bradys' 25 remaining horses at J4S are expected later today. The two-stage testing process at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong is similar to that for EI and final results are unlikely to be available before Monday.

Meanwhile, a colony of flying foxes remains ensconced in trees near an Allora watercourse, the scene of one of several local infestations earlier in the year which led to local calls for a cull, especially after their damage to fruit crops on the Granite Belt.

Horticultural lobby group GrowCom yesterday repeated demands for the State Government to revoke a ban on the shooting of the nomadic creatures in the wake of news of the Hendra outbreak.

It is unknown how Hendra spreads from flying foxes to horses, but anyone with horses near a colony is advised to move their animals or at least isolate feed and water from possible contamination, however there are no known cases of Hendra being spread from flying foxes directly to humans.

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