THE development of a vaccine against the hendra virus has been hailed great news by Department of Primary Industries North Coast vet Paul Freeman.
But Dr Freeman has cautioned those who handle horses to maintain good hygiene practices to guard against infection.
Australian horse owners and the equine industry can now access the Equivac HeV vaccine through accredited veterinarians.
It doesn't mean that the messages we have been saying over the last couple of years of handling horses and being hygienic should be disregarded
"This vaccine significantly decreases the risk of exposure to hendra virus for horse owners, handlers and veterinarians," president of the Australian Veterinary Association Ben Gardiner said.
"The vaccine will also help to protect the health of horses and is a major win for anyone working in the equine industry."
Mr Freeman said the vaccine had been highly effective in trials but was still only in limited use.
"It is a very good vaccine ... (but) at the moment the vaccine is still used (under a minor use permit) which means that a lot of added information is collected about the vaccine," he said.
"All that information will then be used to complete the registration process and make the vaccine more readily available.
"It doesn't mean that the messages we have been saying over the last couple of years of handling horses and being hygienic should be disregarded now."
Mr Freeman said because of the limited release of the vaccine not all horses would be vaccinated.
He also warned no vaccine was 100% effective.
"We still say that it doesn't matter about the horses' status, still be careful and adopt normal hygiene practices," he said.
Hendra virus has been transmitted by flying foxes which shed the virus in their saliva, urine, aborted foetuses and reproductive fluids.
Horses are thought to contract the virus by ingesting contaminated water.
Hendra was considered a Queensland-only virus until a case was discovered at Murwillumbah in 2005.
Then an infection at Wollongbar in July last year sparked a spread of infections on the North Coast as far south as Macksville.
In October last year NSW was declared hendra-free.
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