Starting from the 1st November, Australian horse owners and the equine industry will receive an important boost in their fight against the deadly hendra virus with the introduction of Equivac HeV vaccine. Available under permit from accredited veterinarians, the vaccine will also assist in breaking the cycle of transmission that puts humans at risk of contracting this potentially lethal virus.
With a high mortality rate, this virus has claimed the lives of 81 horses since its discovery in 1994, including nine deaths in 2012 alone. With no known cure for hendra, the Equivac HeV vaccine is positioned to become the most effective defence against this virus.
"This vaccine significantly decreases the risk of exposure to hendra virus for horse owners, handlers, and veterinarians. For that reason, the Australian Veterinary
Association recommends that all horses be vaccinated against the Hendra virus," said Dr. Ben Gardiner, president of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA). "The vaccine will also help to protect the health of horses and is a major win for anyone working in the equine industry, including veterinarians. We encourage all horse owners to contact their veterinarian to schedule a ... vaccine appointment."
This long-awaited vaccine was the result of an international collaboration. In Australia,
Pfizer Animal Health has worked in close partnership with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's (CSIRO) Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL). Additionally, U.S.-based organizations, the Uniformed Service University of the Health Sciences (USU) and The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF) have also contributed to the development of this important vaccine.
"Our involvement in the collaboration to develop Equivac HeV speaks to our determination to support the veterinary community and equine industry with effective vaccines to aid in the control of potentially life-threatening diseases such as the hendra virus," said Mike van Blommestein, division director of Pfizer Animal Health Australia.
CSIRO has maintained a significant program of hendra virus research since the virus was first identified and has contributed critical technical knowhow and advice on the virus to the partnership. CSIRO also provided the safe handling of hendra virus and testing of the Equivac HeV at its high containment facility in Geelong, Victoria, Australia.
Leading the specialist team from CSIRO, Deborah Middleton, BVSc (Hons), MVSc, PhD, Dipl. VCS, veterinary pathologist, has a deep understanding of the need for an equine vaccine to aid in the prevention of the spread of hendra virus.
"As a veterinarian, I have seen first-hand how hendra has created difficult working conditions for my colleagues and any Australian who works with horses," said Middleton. "A horse vaccine is crucial to breaking the cycle of hendra virus transmission from flying foxes to horses and then to people, as it can prevent both the horse developing the disease and passing it on. For the first time, we have a hendra specific tool that provides veterinarians with a greater level of safety when they come into contact with sick horses."
Equivac HeV will be available for use by accredited veterinarians only. Pfizer Animal Health is currently working to supply Equivac HeV vaccine to those areas with the greatest need across Australia.
"We are collaborating with state based Chief Veterinary Officers and industry to ensure horses in areas evaluated as highest risk are supplied with the vaccine as a first priority," advised van Blommestein.
While the introduction of a vaccine represents a significant step in countering the spread of Hendra virus, it is still important that veterinarians and those who work with horses take precautions to safeguard against infection.
"Although Equivac HeV will provide reassurance for Australians in contact with horses, owners should still be conscious of flying fox activity in their area," added Gardiner. "Anyone handling a sick horse should also continue to take important infection control precautions such as wearing personal protective equipment, quarantining sick horses and following good hygiene practices as a matter of routine."
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