Hendra Virus Policy

Google Maps location for Gympie Veterinary Services

Gympie Veterinary Services
2 Little Channon Street
QLD 4570

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07 5482 2488
07 3103 4508

Tin Can Bay Veterinary Surgery
67 Gympie Road
Tin Can Bay
QLD 4580

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07 5486 4666
07 3103 4508

Policy on horses and Hendra Virus vaccination

Hendra virus (HeV) is a fatal disease in horses and in humans. Mortality (death) rate in horses known to have contracted Hendra virus is 100%. The mortality rate in humans is 60%. Veterinarians and their staff are the most at risk of contracting Hendra virus and they account for all but one of the human cases. Gympie Veterinary Services has an obligation to its clients and staff to protect and advise them on the best way of preventing disease in horses and people.

Worksafe Queensland, Queensland Health and Biosecurity Queensland have developed extensive guidelines for all parties involved with the handling horses and potential HeV cases. The information is freely available on their web sites.

There is a large range of clinical signs possible in horses that have contracted HeV. Horses with HeV have been variously diagnosed with colic, snake-bite, “choke”, or have been vaguely unwell. Infected horses have had a normal, high or low temperature. In other words any horse that is acutely unwell, that may have an elevated temperature or heart rate, colic, neurological signs, respiratory secretions or disease, inappetence, or any debilitating condition could be a Hendra virus case. In recent cases there has been no known activity of flying foxes.

There are many important consequences related to HeV that need to be considered by all people involved in handling horses:

  1. There is a known and serious risk of injury or death because of this virus. Although infection is not common, the consequences are very serious including death of horses and people. HeV is categorised as a “BSL-4” virus (Bio-safety Level 4 - the same as Ebola Virus)
  2. Any horse that is unwell must also be considered at risk of having HeV. Therefore an unvaccinated horse cannot be admitted to hospital, or have invasive diagnostic procedures or treatments performed until a negative exclusion test has been received. It is not possible to diagnose nor rule out HeV on a sick horse without an exclusion test from Biosecurity Queensland. This requires sending samples to Brisbane with results taking between two and up to five days if over a weekend. This time delay dangerously limits treatment options for seriously unwell horses and exposes people and other horses to significant risks. The ‘Hendra Interagency Technical Working Group’ has deemed that ‘if HeV cannot be ruled out as a diagnosis, risk controls should be implemented before anyone contacts a sick horse, not after initial examination.'

Vaccination is the best way of preventing Hendra virus infection in horses and people.  HeV vaccination is considered to be safe and effective. Over 250, 000 doses have now been administered and the rate of complications is very low (0.28%). The most common complication is a swelling at the injection site, or a raised temperature or malaise (off food) for 24 hours. There have been no reported repercussions in breeding horses. We STRONGLY recommend that vaccination be carried out on all unvaccinated horses for the safety of the horse, the client and their families, and our staff.

From the 1st September 2015 Gympie Veterinary Service will be adhering to the following guidelines in relation to sick horses that are NOT vaccinated for HeV:

  1. Sick, unvaccinated equids (horses & donkeys) will not be seen by Gympie Veterinary Services. This will include foals < 4 months old from unvaccinated mothers.
  2. Admission of all horses for routine cases to hospital that require stabling overnight will only be possible if Hendra virus vaccination is implemented before admission to hospital.
  3. High risk procedures such as those using an endoscope and dental equipment will only be carried out on clinically well horses that are vaccinated.
  4. We will not attend any Horse events unless they are a compulsory HeV vaccination event.
  5. Any unvaccinated horses that are down and require immediate veterinary attention will only be attended to when the welfare of the animal severely compromised. These animals will most likely need to be euthanased. An exclusion test will be performed and the attending veterinarian will be required to wear Personal Protective Equipment which entails additional cost.


If you have any questions on this policy please contact the clinic.