Deadly horse virus kills Australian vet and 5 horses

  • An equine vet has died in Australia after contracting a deadly virus from a horse.

    The deadly virus, Hendra, kills both horses and humans, and last week killed a male vet and 5 horses. A nurse and another vet are currently still in hospital.

    Hendra, named after the Brisbane suburb where it first struck in 1994, is spread by fruit bats (sometimes known as flying foxes). Seventy per cent of horses that catch it die and 50 per cent of humans. There is no known cure.

    H&H vet Karen Coumbe, talking from the Equestrian Olympic centre in Hong Kong said: “It’s a very nasty virus a bit like measles at its worst, in that even if you recover you can have brain damage. The death of the young vet is a real tragedy. I was working out here with someone who knew him. She was very upset.”

    Thirty three-year-old vet Ben Cunneen died on Wednesday 20 August having contracted Hendra from a horse at the Redlands Veterinary Clinic, Brisbane, Queensland.

    A nurse and another vet have also been hospitalised. Four horses died and one was euthanised in the current outbreak.

    Queensland Chief Veterinary Officer, Ron Glanville, said: “This is one of the most deadly viruses known to man. It is only studied in laboratories under the strictest of biocontainment protocols.”

    Karen Coumbe said it’s highly unlikely to get out of Australia: “The flying foxes seem key to its transmission, so it’s very unlikely to leave Australia, although there is something very similar in Malaysia. It’s rare, unusual and deadly.”

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