Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Hendra virus - Biosecurity authorities try to quarantine far north Queensland tourist property

A POPULAR tourist business owned by an aspiring Cairns politician is the latest to be struck down by the deadly Hendra virus - the fifth outbreak of the disease in the past two weeks.

Four people were being monitored for signs of the virus last night as biosecurity authorities tried to quarantine the far north Queensland tourist property. Blood tests revealed a horse that died on the Blazing Saddles property near Kuranda, west of Cairns, had contracted the deadly disease spread by fruit bats.

Property owner Michael Trout, who is the Liberal National Party candidate for Barron River, last night confirmed that four staff, including his brother Luke, had had contact with the animal immediately before it died. "Hendra virus is well known to be caused by horses coming into contact with flying foxes, which . . . are commonly in plague proportions here in far north Queensland," Mr Trout said. "Obviously, Blazing Saddles will now be subject to all the necessary quarantines and inspections that come with such sad events. "My only focus at the moment is the wellbeing of those people who have been in contact with the animal, whose health is of the utmost importance to me."
Of the seven people known to have tested positive to Hendra virus, four have died. In the outbreaks of the past two weeks, eight horses have died and at least 36 people across Queensland and NSW are being monitored for signs of the disease.

Across Queensland, 21 people are being monitored for signs of the virus after being exposed to sick animals. It is feared 15 people in NSW were exposed to infected horses at Wollongbar, west of Ballina, and at Macksville, on the state's lower north coast. Queensland Chief Biosecurity Officer Jim Thompson said a private veterinarian who visited Blazing Saddles last Sunday suspected a sick horse might be suffering from Hendra and took blood samples for further analysis. He said initial reports suggested there were 37 other horses on the property. "Tracing will be a priority to determine what contact the deceased horse had with other animals on the property," he said.

The outbreak is thought to be isolated from previous cases this year and marks the first time the virus has been detected in north Queensland since 2004. Cairns veterinarian Dallas McMillan said his practice, Cairns Veterinary Clinic, stopped seeing horses 18 months ago, to minimise the risk of Hendra virus. Dr McMillan said the far north Queensland city was at a high risk of Hendra outbreaks.

"There are so many flying foxes in Cairns and, like in a lot of growing cities, the horses tend to be just on the edge of town," he said. "For Cairns, that means surrounded by rainforest. It's not uncommon to have five to 10 horses in a paddock and rainforest all around it, with flying foxes in the trees. "So this is a high-risk area of transmission of viruses, such as Hendra, from bats to horses." In 2004, a graduate veterinarian working at his practice contracted the virus, becoming the fourth known case.

Authors | Source | Sarah Elks and Jared Owens | The Australian | July 13th 2011

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