Australian Vet Killed by Hendra Virus After Trying to Save Infected Horses Lives

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by Fran Jurga | 2 September 2009 | The Jurga Report

I hate to write to this story. I hate to have to tell you this. Again.

A young Australian veterinarian has died in a Queensland hospital after spending two weeks in a coma. He is the second veterinarian in as many years to die from the Hendra virus transmitted by a sick horse.

Alister Rodgers (inset photo, left) was treating horses infected with the highly contagious Hendra virus at a stud farm in Queensland, and in spite of treatment with anti-viral drugs when the diagnosis of the horse was made, became ill and spent two weeks in a coma. He died yesterday.

Along with Alister Rodgers, three exposed stud farm workers of varying ages were also treated with anti-viral medication. All four, and the stud farm owner, were kept under close observation in a hospital and later released except for Rodgers. Only he became ill.

According to the Equestrian Queensland branch of the Equestrian Federation of Australia, the stud farm will now be under quarantine for months. No horse movement can take place until the quarantine is lifted. Also, because of the threat of HeV to human health, minimal interaction is taking place with horses and only basic husbandry can be done.

"A supportive horse community is a strong horse community," says EQ in their appeal. They would know, after getting through the Equine Influenza outbreak in Australia last year; EQ hopes to raise money to help the farm meet its payrole and feed its horses.

The deadly Hendra Virus (HeV) has not been widely documented outside of Australia. It is carried by a specific type of fruit bat and, for some reason, reappears almost annually in horses in the Australian state of Queensland. It is named for a suburb of Brisbane, where it was first discovered and killed a horse trainer.

Click here for general information about how Hendra virus affects horses and humans.

Click here to read about last summer's outbreak of Hendra virus in Queensland.

Click here to read about the death almost exactly one year ago of Queensland vet Ben Cuneen who was also treating an infected horses when he contracted the virus. The veterinarians there really are at great risk.

I don't think this story is getting nearly enough publicity. This is a tragic loss of a young professional's life. This disease is like something out of a horror movie and I hope that the Australia medical and biotechnology experts will soon unravel its mystery and protect both horses and humans from future threats.