Newspaper article The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Australia)

Agonising Wait as Hendra Rears Ugly Head Again in Qld; Vaccine Is Ray of Hope in Fight to Protect Horses and Handlers

Newspaper article The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Australia)

Agonising Wait as Hendra Rears Ugly Head Again in Qld; Vaccine Is Ray of Hope in Fight to Protect Horses and Handlers

Article excerpt

IT'S been almost 17 years since Vic Rail's family turned off the champion horse trainer's life support system and let him slip away.

He was the first victim of the baffling Hendra virus that's taken hold in Queensland and apparently nowhere else in the world.

Since Rail's death in September 1994, there have been 14 more outbreaks resulting in the deaths of three other people and dozens of horses.

But researchers are still no closer to a cure for the virus, which spreads from flying foxes to horses and, in a rare number of cases, their handlers.

The virus reared its ugly head again a week ago when a horse fell ill and died south of Brisbane.

The latest outbreak has sentenced eight more people to an agonising wait to learn if they've been infected, faced with the sobering statistics.

Four of the seven people known to have contracted Hendra died. One was Rail. The others were vets Alister Rodgers and Ben Cunneen, and Mackay cane farmer Mark Preston.

One of the three who lived was vet nurse Natalie Boehm who pulled through after weeks in intensive care, but is still plagued by ongoing health problems.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about Hendra, but one thing is certain, there will be more outbreaks and vets and the horse industry are rightly rattled.

The latest incident has turned the focus on the only real ray of hope in the Hendra war, a new vaccine that's proved effective in stopping horses from developing the virus.

Dr Ewan Maskrey, the vet who treated the horse at the centre of the latest outbreak, is among those calling for mandatory vaccination of horses in Queensland, as he waits to learn if he's been infected.

He and others in the industry warn vets may refuse to treat sick horses unless owners can prove they've had the shot.

The CSIRO has developed the Hendra vaccine, which is due for commercial release in 2013. …

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