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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What Is My Life Worth? Asks Australian Vet Clinic After Hendra Virus Kills Colleague Who Treated Infected Horse

I was sent this letter and am posting it here to share with others. Whether you live in Australia or not, diseases like Hendra are a real risk for all who live and work around horses. Please read this letter and act, or not, but think about your job, your life, and your safety in the lens of Ben Cunneen's death.

Note: Hendra virus is an "emerging" infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans from infected horses. First discovered in 1994 when an Australian racehorse trainer died from exposure to infected horses, Hendra recently infected a vet clinic outside Brisbane, Australia. A young vet who treated an infected horse contracted the virus and died last week. At the same time, a controversy erupted over the government-ordered euthanasia of a horse that recovered from the disease; he was either a public health risk or worthy of observation and study, depending on your point of view.

From the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta:

Hendra virus (formerly called equine morbillivirus) is a member of the family Paramyxoviridae. The virus was first isolated in 1994 from specimens obtained during an outbreak of respiratory and neurologic disease in horses and humans in Hendra, a suburb of Brisbane, Australia. The natural reservoir for Hendra virus is thought to be flying foxes (bats of the genus Pteropus) found in Australia. Hendra virus caused disease in horses in Australia, and the human infections there were due to direct exposure to tissues and secretions from infected horses.

To all fellow horse lovers and their families,

Today we attended the memorial service of Ben Cunneen, who was an excellent Australian equine veterinarian and an all-round great guy. He died after contracting the Hendra Virus while “just doing his job”. It was a very sad day.

As I looked around the church I couldn’t help but think that it could have been any one of the people that were here today to say good-bye. It could have been any one of the wonderful people who try and save our horses' lives at Redlands Vet Clinic; it also could have been you.

There has been some talk in the media about developing a vaccine to protect humans, but so far the powers that be have stated that it would not be “commercially viable”.

I cannot see the sense in this statement when you think of the number of people involved in the equine industry, be it as professionals or in a hobbyist capacity.

I remembered when we all united to let our government ministers know how we would not tolerate them lumping a levy on us for the cost of containment of Equine Influenza, and I thought, "We can do this again. We can show them the might of the equine public, their families and their friends by spending five minutes to write a letter to the relevant governing body."

This is not a chain letter, it is a campaign to have some good come out of a terrible tragedy.

Please pass this on far and wide. Don’t be afraid to send it overseas, the equine industry is far-reaching when you really think about it. We have vets from Scotland every stud season and would gladly pay for them or any of our employees to receive a Hendra Vaccine.

We can write to:
1. Kim Carr who is the Minister For Innovation, Industries, Sciences & Research at and has the CSIRO as part of his portfolio.

2. Eric Abetz- Shadow Minister For Innovation, Industries, Sciences & research at

While we are at it since it was so effective previously we should write to:
3. Tony Burke who is the Minister For Agriculture at

4. Mr Nigel Scullion- Shadow Minister For Agriculture at

Thank you for your time and please feel free to share any of your ideas with us-

Kelly Batholomeusz

P.S. This is David Bartholomeusz. It is a very sobering thought that not only did Ben contract this virus just doing his normal job, but the virus itself has changed its disease process and clinical signs dramatically from previous outbreaks. That was how it sneaked under our guard.

If this has occurred once, who is to say that it won’t occur again, and what will it be next time? Colic? Diarrhoea or constipation? Salivation? Is it going to be the case that we are going to have to take quarantine precautions every time we handle a horse, whether it be to treat it, or even to put a bit in its mouth? After all one of the ways of transmission is via saliva from an infected horse.

Referral of horses to a hospital for urgent attention such as a colic would be delayed because of the possible need for testing before it goes in, and the DPI is not open after hours.

It has been 14 years since the first cases, and there have been a few confirmed cases every year or two. We are fortunate that the virus is not highly contagious like Equine Influenza, but who is to say what the next variation of this virus will do?

How many deaths – human or equine – are needed to make a vaccine important enough to overcome the need to be “commercially viable”? Or are there enough humans potentially exposed to the virus because of the presence of horses and bats in their lives?

Make no mistake – this virus is DEADLY, and anyone who has anything to do with handling horses can be at risk, especially if there are bats AND horses in the same area.

I for one would be VERY interested in having access to the vaccine regardless of the cost – what is my life worth?

Dr David Bartholomeusz

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