THE hendra virus threat to horses and people dominated a recent horse information evening held by CRT merchandise outlet Tom Grady.
Julie Pocock is the equine specialist with Zoetis and said hendra was a new disease that could be fatal to horses and people.
"It has a transmission route from flying foxes to horses and then people," she said.
"The virus is developing and does not look like going away."
Infection can be slowed by good hygiene in stables and by not getting near the front or back end of a horse that is possibly infected.
Ms Pocock said that when a 'mystery disease' was found at a Hendra horse stable in 1994, it was compared with more than 4000 blood samples and no match was found, indicating it was new.
She said the virus had the ability to make an animal or person sick and if they recovered, a relapse could occur.
"The four species of fruit bats that are carriers do not get sick themselves," Ms Pocock said.
"Because of joint roosting, about 30% of those four species are infected."
She said hendra was spread from bodily fluids and regurgitated food and the virus could remain stable and infectious for three or four days.
Symptoms varied in severity, but often included feeling 'off colour' and respiratory problems, like a runny nose and cough.
"There have been seven people infected, four have died and one survivor is suffering severe neurological problems," Ms Pocock said.
"Infection can be slowed by good hygiene in stables and by not getting near the front or back end of a horse that is possibly infected."
Ms Pocock said a sick horse at a pony club would cause all horses there to be quarantined until tests were completed.
She said there was a very effective vaccine, using killed virus, for hendra, and it would not infect a horse with the disease.
"The vaccine is close to 100% effective," Ms Pocock said. "A few local reactions, such as an injection site lump, may happen."
She said the vaccine could be given from four months of age as a continuing course, according to instructions and only administered by a vet, to ensure the certificate of vaccination was correct and the animal was microchipped.
Local vet Justin Schooth presented whole of animal preventative health care, including vaccinations, dental and hoof care and nutrition.
Mr Schooth said with many horses being grazed on cattle pastures, such as seteria, and kikuyu, there was a threat of big head, due to calcium absorption problems.
He said tetanus from such things as a foot abscess were hugely expensive to treat but could be prevented by vaccination.
Mr Schooth said many vets were now wary of treating a horse with any number of symptoms, unless its hendra virus vaccination status was known because the personal risk was too high.