By Edited Press Release Feb 5, 2015
Australian equine veterinarians have expressed concerned that recent commentary about the safety of the hendra virus vaccine could be misleading horse owners in high-risk areas.
“Horse owners are understandably concerned about reports of (adverse) reactions to the vaccine, and vets understand this as they work with vaccines all the time,” said Nathan Anthony, BVSc (Hons) MANZCVSc, president of Equine Veterinarians Australia (a special interest group of the Australian Veterinary Association). “But we’re very worried about comments in social media critical of the hendra vaccine’s safety. Horse owners in areas with a high risk of hendra may be receiving inaccurate information and basing their decisions about whether to vaccinate on misleading data and this could be dangerous.
“The truth is that the hendra vaccine does save lives," Anthony said. "Some horses are experiencing temporary swelling and a stiff neck after a hendra vaccination but the significance of this is no different to our sore arm after a tetanus vaccination and we should keep this in perspective.
“This is not a serious reaction. It’s relatively common and can be expected from any vaccination, and is a reasonable trade off to protect against very dangerous diseases."
Brian Sheahan, BVSc, MACVSc, an equine veterinarian with more than 30 years of experience, says horse owners can be confident that the vaccine is safe: “Our practice has administered more than 4,200 doses of the hendra vaccine without any serious side effects. For every 500 doses that we administer we are seeing only one or two horses that develop swelling and a stiff neck however this is temporary and it completely resolves within days.
Anthony added, “There have been 320,000 doses of the hendra vaccine administered in the last two years. All reported adverse reactions have been investigated and reports made to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, which independently assesses the investigations.
“If your horse has an adverse reaction to any vaccine, your vet should report this to the authority," he said. "You can also make a report."
The deadly hendra virus has been known to yield numerous clinical signs in horses including respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated body temperature (above 40°C, or 104°F), and elevated heart rate; however, authorities caution that hendra infection does not have specific signs. The virus is transmitted to horses from the flying fox, a type of Australian fruit bat.
Hendra virus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from horses to humans; several humans that contracted the virus from horses have died since hendra was discovered in 1994.
“If you live in or travel to areas where hendra virus is a risk, you should seriously consider vaccinating your horses," Anthony stressed. “But don’t rely on hearsay to make your decision. Talk to your vet, and read the information about adverse reactions from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.”
Independent information about the hendra vaccine's safety and registration is available on the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority's website.