ORANGE veterinarian Andrew Litchfield is urging horse owners to have their animals vaccinated against the Hendra virus after the recent flying fox population boom.
The flying foxes migrated to Orange in hugely increased numbers in mid-December, approximately 10 weeks earlier than expected, and have since devastated Orange’s fruit growing community.
Horses and owners alike could now be in danger of contracting the deadly disease, which has killed over 80 animals across in the country in 39 separate outbreaks.
Although Hendra has not been detected further south than north-coastal town Kempsey, Mr Litchfield said the proximity of the flying fox colony which has descended on Orange creates a worrying situation.
Mr Litchfield warns any horse owners who allow their animals to graze under trees in the Orange area their animals could be at risk from flying fox excretions.
“As a vet this virus is a major concern,” Mr Litchfield explained.
“We have vaccinated a number of horses because of owners’ concerns. The problem is all of the flying foxes carry the virus.
“Even though there has been a tremendous amount of work done on the epidemiology (of Hendra virus) we don’t know if and when there are going to be excretions from the flying foxes.”
Mr Litchfield said initially it is difficult for owners to detect symptoms of Hendra virus.
“They present as colic or other viruses and after blood tests we are able to get results back quickly,” he said.
“In an ideal world every horse would be vaccinated just as children are.”
Orange racehorse trainer Brian Buckley echoed Mr Litchfield’s concern, saying he had his horses vaccinated as soon as possible.
“I feel like we have a responsibility to the people around us,” Mr Buckley said.
“I have grandchildren, and employees who all come into contact with the horses, that’s why I got my mob done. A human life is more important than the few bob it costs to get them done.
Orange resident Sharon Ford agreed.
“I’m more worried about the people who come into contact with the horses than anything,” she said.
“We have show horses, and the road leading into our place has fruit trees either side. The flying foxes have been coming every night for two weeks, and we’ve never had them before, so we made sure to get our horses done.”