Biosecurity advice to clients when Hendra virus is suspected

Hendra virus (HeV) is classified as category 1 restricted matter under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

Horse owners and people who deal with horses, have a general biosecurity obligation to take all reasonable and practical measures to prevent or minimise the effects of a biosecurity risk. HeV poses a serious biosecurity risk. This means you are legally required to reduce the risk of HeV infection and limit the spread of HeV when dealing with horses and other possible carriers.

If Hendra virus (HeV) is suspected in a client's horse it's important to give them sound biosecurity advice to ensure the health, safety and welfare of people and other animals.

As an attending veterinarian, you need to advise the client of the zoonotic potential of HeV and the steps they can take to manage the risk of exposure to themselves and others.

Steps horse owners can take to minimise the risk of HeV exposure

Horse owners should:

  • isolate the sick or dead horse from all people, all other horses and all other domestic animals on the premises, and from public access areas where possible
  • advise neighbours that a horse on their property is being investigated for HeV infection
  • observe the sick horse from a distance and notify the veterinarian if there's any change in the behaviour or health of any other horse on the property.
  • avoid close contact with the sick horse.

If your client must have close contact with a sick horse where HeV hasn't been ruled out, you should give them advice about appropriate infection prevention and control measures, for example:

  • avoid invasive treatments
  • arrange activities so that unaffected horses are handled first and have contact with the sick horse last
  • cover cuts and abrasions with a water-resistant dressing
  • put on appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) before approaching the horse
  • after handling the horse, remove and dispose of PPE carefully, making sure there's no contact with the facial area, particularly eyes, mouth and nose
  • wash hands with soap and water and dry them well, or use hand wipes and a waterless alcohol-based hand rub immediately after removing PPE
  • carefully remove any clothing contaminated with a sick horse's body fluids.

If clients have handled a sick horse, they should follow these steps before having contact with other horses:

  • wash off any contamination with plenty of soap and water
  • shower and wash hair
  • change clothes and footwear.

Also advise the client to stop or limit:

  • horse movements on and off the property
  • movements of horse products (such as manure) and equipment (such as tack, dental equipment) off the property
  • visits from horse practitioners (such as farriers or equine dentists) and to advise visiting horse practitioners who must have close contact with the horse about the potential HeV risk.

When disposing of a dead horse the disposal contractor should be informed that the horse is suspected of being infected with HeV. Appropriate precautions should be taken.

Health concerns and medical assistance

Let clients know that they should seek medical advice if they're at all concerned about possible exposure to HeV. They can contact:

  • their local GP
  • their nearest Queensland Health Public Health Unit
  • the Queensland Health 24-hour hotline on 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

Biosecurity Queensland will contact Queensland Health if HeV is confirmed or highly suspected. Queensland Health will decide if any people require monitoring or medical assistance. To make this assessment, Queensland Health will work with the veterinarian and the horse owner to identify the people they may need to contact.