Australia has recorded its first case of Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV) in a horse.
Queensland’s chief biosecurity officer, Dr Jim Thompson, said the horse was euthanised on May 11 after falling ill.
Biosecurity Queensland quarantined the property on the Southern Downs.
“Another horse showing similar symptoms was euthanised at the same property five days earlier,” Thompson said.
“There are 20 other horses on the property. The vet involved in both cases used personal protection equipment and took appropriate precautions.
“The site will remain under quarantine while further testing is conducted on the remaining horses.”
Thompson said the horse had tested negative for Hendra virus, but further testing returned a positive result for ABLV, which is carried by bats and flying foxes.
Staff from the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service Public Health Unit will visit the property to assess the situation and identify any human potentially exposed to the horse.
The public health staff will interview all people identified as having been in contact with the horse to determine whether any post-exposure treatment is required.
Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said it is important to remember that human cases of Lyssavirus were incredibly rare.
“There have only been three recorded cases in Australia, all in Queensland, and sadly, all three people passed away,” Young said.
The virus causes severe brain swelling.
“All three cases were the result of direct exposure to bats with Lyssavirus. This is the first case where Australian Bat Lyssavirus has been identified in a horse, although we know from overseas that horses can be infected with rabies. There is a theoretical possibility that transmission to humans could occur.
“We do, however, have a preventative treatment that is effective in any person not displaying symptoms of the virus.
“Warwick and Toowoomba Hospitals will provide a free course of this preventative treatment to anyone who public health staff determine was in close contact with this dead horse resulting in a risk of exposure to the virus. Simply patting a horse would not constitute exposure.”
People who have had a potential exposure to ABLV require an injection of rabies immunoglobulin and a series of four rabies vaccine injections.
Anyone with a weakened immune system will require a further (fifth) dose of vaccine and follow-up blood tests to confirm their immunity.
This course of treatment is also known as post-exposure prophylaxis.
It is understood six people may have had contact with the horse that may warrant treatment.
Authorities suspect the horse may have been bitten or scratched by a bat to contract the virus.
ABLV is closely related to rabies virus. It was first identified in a 5-month old juvenile black flying fox collected near Ballina in northern New South Wales, Australia, in 1996 during a national surveillance program for the recently identified Hendra virus.
ABLV is the seventh member of the lyssavirus genus, which includes the rabies virus, and is the only lyssavirus present in Australia.