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Precautions to take when Hendra virus is suspected

Avoid contact with a sick horse that is showing clinical signs when Hendra virus (HeV) is a possible diagnosis. If you must have contact, assess and manage potential HeV risks. Adopt standard precautions and airborne precautions, and enhanced biosecurity.

Isolate the horse

Isolate the horse from humans, other horses and other animals. Put steps in place so that the public cannot access the horse. Keep non-essential people (including children) away from the horse.

Limit procedures

Consider limiting veterinary procedures to obtaining samples, providing immediate treatment and attending to the horse's welfare.

Avoid high-risk procedures that could result in a high level of exposure to the horse's blood, tissues, respiratory secretions and other body fluids.

Ensure sharps safety

Never recap a used needle, and consider using safety-engineered sharps, such as retractable blood collection systems, to minimise the risk of sharps injuries.

Manage the risk to others

Ensure the health and safety of any person who assists you with a veterinary assessment, procedure or treatment (e.g. the person holding the horse). Make sure that the person:

Consider using a trained veterinary professional (e.g. a veterinary nurse) to assist you instead of a non-veterinary person such as the horse owner.

If a potential HeV case needs ongoing treatment before test results are received, you should conduct a risk assessment to ensure the health and safety of the person administering the treatment.

Don't ask non-veterinary staff to administer invasive treatments, including giving injections, until HeV is excluded. Anyone who has close contact with the horse to administer a treatment should follow appropriate infection control precautions including wearing PPE, safe sharps handling and disposal, hand hygiene and decontamination of themselves and equipment.

You should also provide them with any information, instruction, training or supervision that is necessary to ensure their health and safety.

Manage accidental contamination

If there is accidental contamination with the horse's blood and/or body fluids or a needlestick (sharps) injury, take the following precautions:

  • If blood, body fluids or excretions contaminates unprotected skin, or involves a cut or puncture wound, wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible.
  • If the eyes are contaminated, gently but thoroughly rinse open eyes with water, or normal saline, for at least 30 seconds.
  • If body fluids get in the mouth, spit it out and rinse the mouth with water several times.
  • Seek medical advice about possible exposure to HeV.

Contact with an animal with confirmed HeV infection

An animal with confirmed HeV infection should be managed very carefully to prevent the transmission of infection to people and other susceptible animals.

Biosecurity Queensland will work in collaboration with the animal owners and relevant private veterinary practitioners, to implement actions to manage the incident.

These actions can include:

  • stringent biosecurity and work health and safety measures to limit contact between potential sources of HeV and susceptible animals and humans
  • controlling the movement of animals and objects that pose a risk of disease transmission
  • epidemiological investigation, tracing and exposure assessment to assess the likelihood of the transmission of HeV to other susceptible animals
  • laboratory testing of animals assessed as being close contact animals
  • monitoring the health of animals assessed as being close contact animals
  • ensuring communications and engagement informs and addresses the concerns and needs of industry and the community.

Read the Australian Veterinary Association's guidelines for veterinary personal biosecurity.

Unplanned contact with a suspect horse

A veterinary practice investigation procedure for HeV should address the risk of unplanned contact with a suspect horse.

You should compile a dedicated field kit for managing possible HeV cases (including PPE, cleaning agents, disinfectants, sampling equipment and waste disposal bags). This will provide veterinarians with ready access to the equipment needed to protect themselves and others against exposure in situations where there is no prior warning.

If HeV is suspected during routine work where no specific precautions have been taken

  • Minimise exposure. Withdraw to a safe area and instruct others to do the same.
  • Assess the degree of exposure and use soap and water to wash off contamination - shower if necessary and possible.

Before proceeding with the case:

  • assess whether it's safe to re-enter the 'hot' area (i.e. the area where HeV contamination may be present) to sample the horse. Only continue with the investigation if it's safe and the PPE is adequate
  • contact Biosecurity Queensland (13 25 23) for advice, as required.

Read more on infection control recommendations in Hendra virus infection prevention advice (PDF, 295KB).