The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has quarantined a stable adjacent to Ballina Racecourse as a precautionary measure only, after one horse showed signs similar to Hendra virus infection.

“Samples were collected from an ill horse at the stable – and one sample only has shown weak signs of the Hendra virus,” NSW acting chief veterinary officer, Ian Roth, said.

“This weak positive result requires further testing on fresh samples to confirm the diagnosis.

“More samples from the infected horse and all other horses at the stable were collected yesterday and the results are expected within the next few days.

“In the meantime the stable has been quarantined.”

While incidents are rare, Hendra can infect humans, so strict biosecurity controls have also been introduced for people coming into contact with the horses at this stable.

“I stress that at this stage the diagnosis has not been confirmed, but given that this disease has some human health implications, we are taking no risks,” Dr Roth said.

“Hendra is a rare disease in horses and even rarer in humans. This virus does not spread easily.

“There is no connection between this suspect case and the recent Queensland infection at Redlands.”

Health advice

Meanwhile, the North Coast Area Health Service has issued precautionary public heath advice following the notification of the suspected case of Hendra virus.

“The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is regarding the horse as a suspect case at this stage and is waiting for results of further tests to confirm or exclude the diagnosis,” the service said.

“In the meantime the Public Health Unit and DPI are working closely together to identify people who may have had contact with the sick horse and to provide them with information and the recommended medical follow-up.

“Hendra virus infection has previously been diagnosed in horses and the natural reservoir is thought to be flying foxes (bats of the genus Pteropus).

“Transmission to horses is rare and infection does not spread easily between horses.

“It is not believed that flying foxes pose a risk in passing the disease directly to humans.

“However, handling of all bats should be avoided due to the risk of contracting other diseases such as lyssavirus.

“There are six reported cases of human infection with Hendra virus since its first identification in 1994.

“All reported human cases have had very close contact with very sick or dead horses. Two of these people died.

“There is a small risk that people who have had close contact with sick horses may become infected with the virus.

“The symptoms in humans range in severity and include fever, headaches, sore throat, dizziness, drowsiness, disorientation and flu-like symptoms.

“To help prevent Hendra virus infection in horses, owners should ensure that feed troughs are not contaminated with fruit bat droppings and that horses are kept in paddocks away from fruit bat colonies if possible.

“Horse owners should seek veterinary advice if horses develop nervous or respiratory symptoms and contact with sick horses should be avoided until a veterinarian arrives.”