Queensland premier Anna Bligh and her New South Wales counterpart Barry O’Farrell have announced that the two state governments will work in tandem in an effort to eradicate the latest outbreak of the Hendra virus.
Chief veterinarians, health officers and scientists from both states will join CSIRO representatives on the task force that has been charged with assessing the Hendra virus situation on both sides of the border.
“While Queensland and New South Wales have already been sharing information on the disease, this task force will formalise that relationship and the response,” said Queensland Premier Anna Bligh.
“Hendra virus is affecting both states and there is a lot to be gained by sharing knowledge and experience.
“We will be analysing the situation in both states to better understand the outbreak, identifying areas for further collaboration and undertaking longer-term planning for managing the disease and its impacts.
“Due to our exposure to the virus since 1994, Queensland is advanced in its research, response and communications around the Hendra virus and it is important to share this knowledge and experience for mutual benefit.”
Since June 20, seven horses have died from the outbreak and 11 properties have been quarantined. A total of 32 people have been exposed to infected horses, and all are awaiting test results. Of the seven people that have caught Hendra virus since it first appeared in 1994, four have died.
Despite the scare, horse movements in Queensland and New South Wales remain unrestricted. However Queensland’s chief veterinary officer Dr Rick Symons said a blanket ban on horse movements would not necessarily curb the outbreak of the virus.
“These incidents are not contagious incidents. They’re virtually at random, relating to the interaction of flying foxes and horses. It’s not a disease that is going from property to property.” Dr Symons said.
Symons also warned people to remove horses from areas that may contain plants that are attractive to flying foxes, and that people should only approach a sick horse if they are wearing protective equipment.
At this stage the virus has only affected horses close to the Queensland-New South Wales border town of Kerry, however New South Wales officials are warning that the outbreak could spread as far as the Hunter Valley.
New South Wales Chief Veterinary officer Ian Roth said the threat could not be underestimated.
“Flying foxes can transmit it to horses and I guess it could happen so people need to try to get that separation if they can between flying foxes and horses,” Roth said.
“Particularly make sure that horses don’t feed and water underneath trees where flying foxes are feeding or roosting.”
However Roth was quick to point out that the Hendra outbreak was very different to the Equine Influenza outbreak that shut down Australian thoroughbred racing in 2007.
“We’re treating this as an emergency situation, and we have the same sort of operations going,” he said.
“They’re very different diseases. E.I. spread incredibly rapidly and it was just so infective, whereas this is not infective at all.”