A HORSE died at a property west of Kempsey on Friday night after contracting the Hendra virus.
Kempsey veterinarian Andrew Bennett yesterday confirmed laboratory tests on samples from the horse tested positive to the virus.
The veterinarian that took samples from the horse, the veterinarian that handled the samples and the owner of the horse have all been contacted by the Department of Health for risk assessment.
A second horse on the property was to be tested yesterday by the district veterinarian.
The death of this horse represents the southern most spread of the virus since it was first recorded in Queensland in 1994, when it killed leading trainer Vic Rail and 14 horses at his property.
Another horse in Macksville has also tested positive to the virus, the third horse in the Macksville area to contract the virus this year.
Hendra is spread by common fruit bats in their droppings and urine which are discharged as they fly, and their saliva which can contaminate horse feed and water.
The property where the horse died does not have a resident bat colony.
Mr Bennett said his practice had been called to the upriver property on Friday to examine a sick horse.
“The horse exhibited the signs of suffering from colic but with the Hendra virus scare we took all the required precautions for the vet examining the horse and sent the samples away immediately by courier to be tested,” he said.
“The horse was found dead by the owner on Saturday morning and the results of the lab tests came back on Sunday evening confirming it was the Hendra virus.”
Mr Bennett said that despite the presence of the virus at Macksville, horse owners in the Macleay have been slow to take up the available vaccine.
The virus can be fatal to horses and people. Horses are infectious for up to two days before they exhibit symptoms. A vaccine was released onto the market earlier this year which can protect horses from the virus and prevent it spreading.
“Unfortunately despite all the publicity about the risks I have only had about 50-60 horses vaccinated by my practice," he said.
"I’m not sure about Heather Rieck at Crescent Head who is the other vet doing vaccinations but if her experience is similar it leaves hundreds of horses in the Macleay unprotected.
“I know horse owners have been put off by the cost but there really is no excuse anymore.
“And despite what you might read the only horses that can’t be vaccinated with absolute safety are pregnant mares.”
Mrs Rieck has again called for more horse to be vaccinated.
The pharmaceutical company which makes the vaccine is offering two vaccination doses for the price of one for a limited time.
This does not include the veterinarian’s charges but still represents a significant saving.
Mr Bennett said that it did not matter to him who did the vaccination, as long as horse owners were now getting the message.
“If you want to come to me, great, if you want to go somewhere else that’s fine, but please think seriously about getting your horse vaccinated.” he said.
"I plead with all horse owners to vaccinate their horses immediately."
It is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive for vets to treat unvaccinated horses with any symptoms that may indicate Hendra, Mr Bennet said.
These symptoms include those of routine infections, respiratory problems and colic.
Vaccinated horses are able to be treated immediately.
Hendra virus is a notifiable disease across Australia.