A survey of equine veterinary practices in Queensland Australia has shown that some veterinarians have stopped doing equine work because of the risks posed by Hendra virus.
Hendra virus (HeV) infection primarily affects fruit bats, but was first reported in horses in 1994. During the initial outbreak 14 horses died. Seven other horses were shown to have been infected and were humanely destroyed.
Human infections, although uncommon, most often affect people in contact with horses. Of seven cases of human HeV infection, five have involved equine veterinary personnel conducting post mortem or endoscopic examinations. In three cases the infection was fatal.
A study, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, explored the issues faced by staff of equine veterinary practices relating to HeV infection-control and workplace health and safety.
The research team from James Cook University, in Townsville, Queensland, was led by Diana Mendez. They interviewed 21 veterinarians and other staff from 14 equine or mixed practices.
They found that twelve of twenty veterinary professionals (60%) had dealt with one or more cases of HeV infection; seven of them (35%) had dealt with a confirmed case.
One unexpected finding was that some veterinarians had given up equine practice because of HeV. Four of 18 vets interviewed said they had stopped doing equine work, and 44% knew of one or more colleague who had stopped doing equine work in the previous year. Concerns over personal safety and legal liability related to HeV were given as the main reason for the decision to leave equine practice.
The authors quote one participant in the study "The HeV situation was the last straw that made us stop equine practice.... We put it in the too hard basket."
They continue to discuss the implications of the findings, including the possibility that those vets remaining in the equine sector could be at even greater risk as a result of the increased work load. There were also concerns about the effect the shortage of veterinarians willing to undertake equine work would have on equine welfare.
A vaccine against HeV is being developed. The availability of such a vaccine would go some way to calm the fears of those working in the Australian equine sector.
Unexpected result of Hendra virus outbreaks for veterinarians, Queensland, Australia.
Mendez DH, Judd J, Speare R.
Emerg Infect Dis. (2012) 18, 83-85.
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