Councillor warns horse owners to prepare for Hendra outbreak

Mowbray Park managers Blair and Jacqui Briggs are concerned about the Hendra virus reaching the Macarthur region. Picture: Simon Bennett
Mowbray Park managers Blair and Jacqui Briggs are concerned about the Hendra virus reaching the Macarthur region. Picture: Simon Bennett

Wollondilly councillor Blair Briggs wants local horse owners to be proactive to prevent a viral disease outbreak.

The passionate horse owner is concerned about the spread of the deadly Hendra equine illness, which can also be passed on to humans.

"The Hendra virus thrives in subtropical environments so we haven't had it here yet - however it has now reached the Hunter Valley," Cr Briggs said.

"That's getting pretty close.

"The reality is several flying fox species carry the disease and there are a lot of those in the shire."

The Hendra virus was first discovered in Queensland and for a long time it was contained there.

However, the deadly disease is spreading south.

Mr Briggs will ask councillors to support an online and social media campaign to raise awareness about the disease at tonight's Wollondilly Council meeting (August 18).

He said local horse owners should seek veterinary advice about what is best for their equine friend.

"We are lucky in Wollondilly to have equine vets that offer a high standard of care but this is a serious, serious disease," Cr Briggs said.

"I would say it's about 100 per cent fatal in horses and 50 per cent fatal in humans.

"Horse owners need to be informed.

"It could be as simple as not leaving water troughs near trees where bats roost or not letting horses graze near those trees."

Hendra virus symptoms in horses can vary.

NSW Health says symptoms may include the rapid onset of illness, fever, increased heart rate and rapid deterioration with respiratory and/or neurological (nervous system) signs.

In humans symptoms of the disease include fever, cough, sore throat, headache, tiredness, meningitis or encephalitis and sometimes convulsions and coma.

A vaccination for horses is available to prevent contracting the disease.

"The debate around this vaccination is polarising just as it is for any human vaccination," Cr Briggs said.

"Personally my concern is not just for my horses but the people who help me to care for them - like the horse dentist, the vet, the farrier.

"They are all at risk as well."

Cr Briggs said while the virus had not been found in Sydney yet, horse owners needed to be proactive.

"If it does get down here it might be too late for some horses," he said.

"I hope that an online and social media campaign will bring awareness to the issue and help horse owners take the necessary step to protect their animals."