Basil Nolan is president of Thoroughbred Breeders Queensland.
There are now five separate out breaks of Hendra Virus so far this season. This is unprecedented, having been only two in previous years and there is a possibility more will happen.
------------The case against a cull------------
We have also seen the outbreaks spread further south this season, and there is now no doubt that where-ever there are flying fox colonies there is HeV.
Hendra is a major problem that needs to be tackled on two fronts.
Fast tracking the vaccination is the priority, but until that's available the population of flying foxes needs to be curtailed. We can't ignore the need for culling any longer.
This is a devastating disease that is fatal to humans as well as horses and the state government needs to urgently assess ways to protect both, by limiting flying fox numbers.
I certainly acknowledge that flying foxes are a vital part of our eco system and I definitely do not think they should be 'wiped out', but they are proving to be a danger to society and clearly need to be better managed.
Governments are well aware of the cause of the Hendra virus and proactive action needs to be taken to address that issue until we have the vaccine on the market.
I believe one of the reasons we are seeing more Hendra cases is because flying foxes are in plague proportions. Culling would be to simply bring numbers back to more manageable levels and help minimise the spread of Hendra.
It is no different to culling kangaroos to protect farming land, or netting sharks to protect swimmers. When human lives are at stake these types of measures need to be taken.
Latest research suggests that the Hendra virus was initially present in 10 per cent of the bat population but has now increased to 30 per cent of the bat population.
Species of fruit bats (flying foxes) have been identified as the natural reservoir of Hendra virus where the virus has been detected in the urine, saliva, faeces and birthing fluids.
We know in detail how the virus causes disease and which body organs are most likely to be affected and how the virus is excreted from infected individuals.
The frightening aspect is that flying foxes show no apparent signs of infection, but infection in horses is fatal in about 75 per cent of cases. Infection in humans is fatal in about 50 per cent of cases; we have seen four people die from the seven who have contracted HeV.
Why do we want to risk lives when there is a simple solution to help better manage this devastating disease?
I am not saying culling is the solution, but it could be an effective management tool until we have the vaccination available.
The CSIRO has recently announced some success in its development of an experimental vaccine for horses, but further development, field trials, longevity studies and registration with the appropriate regulatory authorities means the vaccine might not be released until 2013.
It is hoped however that following recent representations to the federal government, the regulatory process will be expedited due the seriousness of the virus and its rapid spreading.
Vaccination is definitely the best solution and we need to push to see this vaccine fast tracked. But in the meantime, it is important to reduce flying fox colonies in areas where horses are situated.
The culling of flying fox colonies will counter their increasing numbers and by no means does that suggest the extermination of all flying foxes.
Until a decision is made on culling or vaccination, I would encourage horse owners to implement some simple steps to minimise the likelihood of Hendra virus infection through practical husbandry measures and by keeping horses well away from flowering or fruit trees.