Occy and rainbow at Werribee at Top Team Trophy horsetrials


No pot of gold at the end of the rainbow , but there is a horse called Occy. 6th after dressage at TTT horsetrials and clear showjumping. Here is hoping for a clear Crosscountry tomorrow.
Regards Walter
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‘I just turned 24, it felt like 50’: the horror of Hendra | The Australian

NATALIE Boehm is 24 and feels 50.

She takes 17 tablets a day, can manage only two four-hour shifts a week at work and is so tired some mornings she can barely lift her head off the pillow.

The Brisbane veterinary nurse is one of three known survivors of Hendra virus. Three years after contracting the illness and losing her friend and workmate, vet Ben Cunneen, to it, she is grappling with a debilitating legacy.

“People just can’t understand how this changes you,” she says quietly. “I know I’m lucky to still be here . . . people tell me that all the time. But, to be honest, if I knew how sick I was going to be, I think I would have just rolled over and let it take me.”

Ms Boehm is speaking from the home in Logan City, on Brisbane’s western outskirts, she shares with her parents. The horse country that rolls out towards Beaudesert is on their doorstep and so, too, is the Hendra virus. In nearby Park Ridge, a horse is dead and five properties have been quarantined, as biosecurity agencies scramble to contain the biggest eruption of the bat-borne disease on record.

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Four other horses have died in outbreaks southwest of Brisbane, and 17 people exposed to the virus are undergoing health checks.

In NSW, hit for the first time by dual Hendra emergencies near Lismore and south of Coffs Harbour, another two horses are confirmed dead and 15 people are being monitored.

Among those sweating on blood test results is veterinary surgeon Kylie Schaaf, who tended the dying Park Ridge horse on acreage on Brisbane’s southern suburban fringe.

She worked with Cunneen and Ms Boehm before their encounter with Hendra virus in June 2008. The world of large animal veterinary medicine is a tight one, and this week it reached deep to comfort its own.

Cunneen was the first of two Queensland vets to be killed by Hendra. Ms Schaaf’s travails take to three the number of vets around Brisbane who are waiting anxiously for what everyone hopes will be the all-clear on infection. Another of them, Peter Prenzler, a former One Nation state MP, put down a sick horse on June 20 without knowing it had Hendra.

He was not wearing the personal protection equipment recommended because he thought the dying animal had colic.

“It’s a bit of a cloud hanging over me, but after I got those first tests back and they were clear I felt a lot more confident,” he told The Weekend Australian.

A fourth vet in NSW is in the same predicament, and Ms Boehm says her heart goes out to them all. “I sometimes wish I could go in instead of them because I’ve had the virus,” she says. “I might get sick again, but I can’t catch it again. When I hear there’s another sick horse I feel like saying: ‘Don’t go in there’. I’ve got to live with this, and I can’t stand the thought of anyone else getting sick.”

The events of the past fortnight, with an unprecedented five Hendra flare-ups straddling the Queensland-NSW border, a distance of about 300km, compound the dread invoked by the disease. Never before has it been found as far south as the property at Macksville, 50km out of Coffs Harbour, where a 16-year-old mare was belatedly discovered to have died last Sunday.

And never before have so many outbreaks happened so quickly. “Typically, we see one or two outbreaks a year, and in some cases none at all,” says Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young.

Chief vet Rick Symons admits this Hendra season is worse in terms of the number of outbreaks, the distribution and the number of people affected. “We have theories, some of them reasonably developed, but very few answers,” Dr Symons says.

Much about the virus remains unknown, including exactly how it is spread by flying foxes to horses, then people, and why it emerges in the chill of the middle months, until now almost exclusively in Queensland. The recorded history of the disease is lamentably short. It was only identified in the spring of 1994 at the Hendra stables of Brisbane horse trainer Vic Rail. He fell ill with a pneumonia-like infection and become the first of its four known human victims.

Soon enough, the fruit bat was pinged as the culprit. The paramyxovirus that it carries is part of the family of viruses that cause measles in people and distemper in dogs. Horses are believed to become infected when they ingest the droppings or bodily secretions of bats feeding or nesting in trees above them. Just why horses are so vulnerable is another of those imponderables. In Malaysia, a close relation of Hendra, the Nipah virus, attacks pigs and can spill across to humans; in Bangladesh, alarmingly, there is no animal bridge: people have been infected directly with Nipah by flying foxes.

Dr Symons says another feature of the current outbreaks is that infected horses are dying faster than before. In some cases, the animal had become sick in the morning and was in such a state by the same afternoon it had to be put down.

Mr Prenzler was horrified by the condition of the horse he encountered on June 20 at Noel Fearon’s Mt Alford property, 80km southwest of Brisbane.

“When we got to the poor horse, it was rolling around in agony,” he says. He did not suspect Hendra at that time. On July 1, he was called back to the property to treat another ill horse. This time, Mr Prenzler donned the PPE gear. The horse had nasal discharge and he thought this was due to spasmodic colic. It was too far gone to help. “It’s bloody awful to watch,” the vet says. “We euthanased the horse.”

Fortunately, Mr Prenzler had the presence of mind to take blood samples from both animals, which later tested positive for Hendra. The pattern has been for horses to present with symptoms not necessarily indicative of the flu-like ones generally associated with the disease.

In the latest confirmed case in Macksville, the animal was unsteady on its legs and disorientated, according to NSW chief vet Ian Roth. It, too, succumbed rapidly. Test results made public on Thursday confirmed the cause was Hendra, and three horses on the property are now being monitored.

Dr Symons says authorities are trying to understand why the virus seems to be more virulent this time around. It could be simply a matter of volume: recent sampling of a colony of bats near Boonah, southwest of Brisbane, found that almost 30 per cent of the animals were carrying active Hendra, against the norm of about 7 per cent.

This goes to another puzzling aspect of the contagion: Hendra typically breaks out in the cool months in Queensland, between May and October. At first, scientists suspected a link to the flying fox’s breeding season.

Now, however, there is growing belief that an array of factors could be involved, including the availability of food for the fruit bats. “It appears there must be a perfect storm of factors, not just the presence of the virus, for spillover (from bats to horses) to occur,” says Hume Field, principal scientist with the Queensland Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Hendra is lethal when activated. It attacks the lining of small blood vessels, known as arterioles, and nerve cells. The respiratory system and the brain are most vulnerable. Once the virus takes hold, having consolidated in the back of the nose or throat, it enters the blood stream, and symptoms appear.

The lab animals – ferrets – being used by veterinary researcher Deborah Middleton to develop a vaccine and treatment for Hendra generally become ill within three days of exposure.

She says her work at CSIRO’s Geelong-based Australian Animal Health Laboratory is “piggybacking” off research by US scientists, who have been concentrating on Nipah.

This has a somewhat curious antecedent. The Americans have classed Nipah and, by extension Hendra, as a possible biological warfare agent, and their effort to develop a vaccine and antidote has been driven by concern that terrorists could make a weapon of it.

Dr Middleton is particularly interested in what she calls the “stealth period” with Hendra: the time between when the virus starts to replicate and when the victim starts showing symptoms. She found that ferrets that received an antibody treatment derived from the US work on Nipah invariably survived – provided it was administered before they showed signs of illness.

This is the hope of containing Hendra, along with a horse vaccine also being developed by Dr Middleton’s team.

Three people have received the experimental antiserum. It was too late for the last of the four known victims, Rockhampton vet Alister Rodgers, who died in September 2009. Rebecca Day and her daughter, Mollie, 12, of the Sunshine Coast, received the drug last June and emerged with a clean bill of health.

Back in 2008, there was no such help for Ms Boehm. The best Dr Playford and his team could do for her and Mr Cunneen was to treat them with the antiviral Ribavirin, since found to be ineffective against Hendra. Each of them developed acute encephalitis – inflammation of the brain. Dr Cunneen, 33, with a pregnant wife at home, did not come of out an induced coma.

Ms Boehm, for her part, is still fighting her way back from the ordeal. “I have a lot of neurological sort of things that happen,” she says, wearily. “My whole body aches, I have pain, hearing loss in my right ear and this unbelievable fatigue. A couple of weeks ago I turned 24. I felt like I was 50.”

Additional reporting: Andrew Fraser, Sarah Elks

More on dogs and Hendra virus : Equid Blog Posted on July 27, 2011 by Scott Weese

Neil Fearon and his family have lost 3 horses to Hendra virus, and are concerned about one other. They are now dealing with the implications of their dog having tested positive for Hendra virus antibodies in its blood. As I mentioned yesterday, the presence of antibodies in the blood of this dog, detected during voluntary testing as part of the outbreak response, indicates that the dog was exposed to the virus. Viral shedding was not identified, suggesting that exposure was a prior event and that an active infection is not present. Despite this, government authorities are requiring that the dog be euthanized.

Poor communication and mixed messages are often the cause of problems during outbreak management, and that seems to be the case here. Based on the news reports, there are some pretty concerning issues.

Testing of the dog was voluntary and the owner was not notified that euthanasia would be required if the dog tested positive.

  • This is rather unethical. People need to understand the implications of outbreak control measures. It’s not fair to have such an aggressive response to a voluntary test without proper notification.

Mixed messages are being given about the risk

  • Authorities want to euthanize the dog, indicating they must believe there is some risk. However, the owner is very concerned about his 11 yr old son who has slept with the dog in it’s bed. Yet, ABC news indicates authorities reassured him that the risks are minimal. If the risks were minimal from that type of prolonged, close contact during the period when the dog may have been actively infected, it’s hard to justify euthanasia after the fact on the basis of the dog posing a risk to people or animals (especially when the virus is endemic in the bat population in the area).
  • Why euthanasia is being required seems to be unclear. While fear of Hendra virus shedding makes the most sense, Queensland’s chief vet has stated that the dog will be euthanized as a precaution because "As a result of that infection, it may make it aggressive". It seems rather strange to euthanize a dog because of concern that an infection (which may not be active) might cause aggression with little evidence that disease will occur or that it can cause aggression in dogs. Quarantine and observation would make more sense. There are a lot more dogs that are prone to aggression wandering around Australia.

This type of action drives things underground

  • When overly aggressive actions are used, and people either don’t agree with them or don’t understand them, faith in the system decreases. What’s the likelihood that people are going to allow their pets to be tested now? I assume it’s a lot lower now that they’ve seen what will happen. So, the ability to determine exposure of other species and the potential risks from other species will be impacted.

Hendra virus is not something to play around with. It’s a very serious disease and one must err on the side of caution. How far you go on the side of caution is the question, and it’s a hard thing to address. It’s easy to be very strict when setting rules and fear of liability or fear of making a subjective decision often override logical thought and discussion.

As a somewhat informed outsider, I have a hard time supporting mandatory euthanasia for a dog that has evidence of previous infection but no evidence of active viral shedding. Yes, no test for virus shedding is 100% but a pretty high level of assurance can be obtained and the dog can be quarantined for further testing. There’s no indication from laboratory studies that I know of that dogs (or other non-bat species) can become longterm carriers of the virus. The owners should be involved in the decision making process and be given enough information to understand the implications of keeping the dog, the risks that might be present and what they can do to reduce the risks. Government authorities need to clearly state their concerns and the evidence supporting them. With that, it’s easier to make a logical plan that protects the public but is also appropriate for the animal and its owners. If the risk is deemed to be real and/or the owners are not willing to accept some degree of risk, then euthanasia is reasonable.

"Kill the dog" is an easy knee-jerk response. I simply don’t see the evidence supporting it. Is it possible that authorities have a true reason to be concerned? Sure, but if so, that indicates another communication problem. If there is really evidence that this dog is a concern, that needs to be clearly communicated so people understand what’s happening and why actions are being taken.

Midweek and showjumping at home under lights

Always a bit hesitant jumping Occy at home alone. But you can’t be hesitant
show jumping as your horse will pick up on that. So I just try not to think
about anything that could happen and just ride a good as I can. The other
option is to take him into a competition without enough practice, and that
is not fair on the horse. The other issue with being home alone is putting
rails back up when or if Occy happens to knock a rail. This time round I was
lucky and only had to get off once to put a rail back up. Will have to move
a couple of jumps so I can get a more flowing course, but need to keep the
arena lights in mind and the shadows they cast.



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Information from the Horse Industry Council – Hendra Virus Infection confirmed in a Dog

Hendra Virus Infection confirmed in a Dog

The Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong has confirmed that a dog has tested positive for Hendra virus.

Queensland Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Rick Symons said this was an unprecedented situation.

“This is the first time outside of a laboratory that an animal other than a flying fox or a horse, or a human, has been confirmed with Hendra virus infection,” Dr Symons said.

“The dog is on a property where Hendra virus infection has been confirmed and is currently under quarantine.

“Biosecurity Queensland’s policy is to test cats and dogs on properties where there are infected horses.

“In this case, the dog returned two negative results for the presence of the virus but a different type of test conducted at AAHL has confirmed the presence of antibodies.

“This means that at some point the dog has been exposed to the virus but to our knowledge has shown no signs of illness.”

Dr Symons said this case raised many questions for biosecurity and health officials and researchers.

“We don’t know how the dog contracted the virus or when it happened,” he said.

“Based on our knowledge to date, it is most likely that the dog caught the virus from an infected horse.

“The remaining horses and dogs on this property are still being monitored daily and show no signs of illness.

“Biosecurity Queensland has tested other cats and dogs on the eleven properties currently under quarantine in Queensland and has received no other positive results.

“We recommend that people keep dogs and cats away from sick horses to reduce the risk of such an infection happening.”

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said Queensland Health would today speak with the property owners to assess if there were any further people who may have had contact with the infected dog.

"We will continue to monitor the property owners and all previously identified contacts for infected horses on this property," Dr Young said.

"While we have not seen Hendra virus in a dog before, I believe there is a minimal risk of infection to humans from this animal. For a human to become infected, they would have had to have significant contact with bodily secretions (saliva and/or blood) that contain the Hendra virus."

Dr Young said Queensland Health continued to have a number of staff working on the Hendra response, including public health officials, medical and testing staff.

"Staff are also available to assist anyone with concerns via 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84), and mental health staff are on standby to provide counselling or support," she said.

Up to date information on Hendra virus is available at www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au or phone 13 25 23.

Bat cull for Hendra virus prevention? : Equid Blog

As Australia faces a particularly bad year for Hendra virus with possible expansion of the range of this serious disease, there have been calls for a mass cull of flying foxes (fruit bats), the reservoir of the virus but also a protected species. The virus lives in bats and is spread mainly through their urine. Horses that are exposed to bat urine or feces (e.g. grazing under a tree where bats are roosting) can become infected and then serve as a source of human infection. Being a highly fatal disease with no vaccine, looking at ways to reduce exposure to the virus is critical, and when you have a wildlife-associated disease, questions about trying to eliminate the wildlife source often arise.

Any discussion of culling wildlife leads to intense debate, and this situation is no different. Some people support culling bats in areas around people and horses while others are opposed on various grounds, including a lack of evidence that it will be effective.

Can fruit bat numbers really be decreased? A lot of bats would have to be killed to have a significant impact on the population. Bats can reproduce quickly and migrate readily, therefore a single cull may have only a limited and short-term effect. Good understanding of the dynamics of the bat population is required to determine how many would need to be killed over a given area to have any significant impact. As Biosecurity Queensland’s chief vet RIck Symons stated "Culling is against government policy. I believe in terms of biosecurity it’s counterproductive, because it does stress flying foxes and they’re more likely to excrete (the virus). It could be filled by another bat colony the next day and if you’re moving them on, you’re moving it on to somebody else and it’s somebody else’s problem, so that is not the solution."

Will a cull actually achieve anything? Even if effective at reducing bat numbers (probably just in the short term), culls don’t necessarily have an impact on disease rates. All bats would not be eliminated, and it’s unclear whether there is a critical mass of bats that is required to transmit infection or whether a small number of bats distributed across the same region would be as likely to result in infections. Small or temporary decreases in bat numbers may have no effect.

What unintended consequences might occur if a cull is effective at reducing bat numbers? Removing an animal from the ecosystem has an effect, and it’s important to be confident that that effect isn’t accompanied with problems of its own. I don’t know enough about fruit bat ecology to say much here, but if this species is greatly reduces, are there other species that will come and occupy that ecological niche, and might they be associated with problems of their own? Good scientific study can help figure this out but you can never be certain.

Are other control measures, such as removing roosting sites from pastures and other bat avoidance measures, being adequately used? Culls should only be considered when other measures have failed. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to address. Certainly, people in endemic areas should remove trees that bats roost in from pastures. However, not all cases are associated with identifiable roosting sites, such as one affected Queensland farm that does not have any fruit bats residing on the property but rather lies along a common flight path.

It’s easy to talk about avoiding a cull when you’re not in the heart of the Hendra epidemic, and I understand the reasoning behind the calls for a cull. It’s a devastating disease that’s a threat to both horse and human health, and it’s unpredictable. People that have been exposed face an incredibly stressful period while they wait and see if they’ve been infected with a virus that kills in ~50% of cases. A vaccine is probably still a couple years away, leaving a period with continued risk and stress. With such a serious disease, considering culling is reasonable. However, it can’t be a knee-jerk reaction to public outcry. It needs to be based on sound science to ensure that if it’s used, it would be effective. The impact on this protected species also can’t be ignored.

The Hendra Virus is gathering international attention