Vets urged to treat Hendra like AIDS

EXPERTS are warning vets to be as serious about guarding against Hendra as health professionals are about AIDS.

Rockhampton vet Alister Rodgers died on Tuesday night, nearly 12 months after vet Ben Cunneen from the Redlands Veterinary Clinic in Brisbane died from the virus.

Dr Rodgers is the fourth person to die from the virus; all of them in Queensland.

Dr Rodgers was quoted in The Australian last month as saying he did not wear protective gear because the foal was a secondary job, mentioned to him as he was treating another horse that day.

Veterinary surgeon Nigel Perkins, who reviewed a response to an outbreak last year, said vets and horse owners needed to take more precautions.

“Alister's death is a terrible tragedy, but the broader issue is how people manage risk and how do we modify human behaviour and get vets and horse owners to take precautions.

“When horses get infected by Hendra they show really vague non-specific signs, so an early case of Hendra looks nothing more than a horse with a fever.

“More research could be done, but that won't change this simple message that every time a vet gets out of a car to treat a sick horse, even though they don't think it's Hendra, they put on the gloves, glasses and mask anyway.”

The owner of the Redlands Veterinary Clinic, David Lovell said Dr Rodgers' passing brought back painful memories.

“Alister's death makes us relive the whole thing again,“ Dr Lovell said.

“I think this situation brings home how dangerous Hendra is, and it's a real threat that we have to be aware of, and I think it is something we can deal with.

“It's about adopting a mindset that this disease is there and it could happen any day at any time, and you have to take adequate precautions all the time.

“If that's our mindset then I think it will become easier to manage, not unlike the human situation with AIDs - the dental and medical profession have all learnt to deal with it.”

Vet association president Mark Lawrie said more funding was needed for research and educating vets and horse owners.


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