New testing will cut down wait times for hendra-related horse cases. (File Image)
New testing will cut down wait times for hendra-related horse cases. (File Image)

Gatton uni develops lifesaving test for horses

RESULTS from horse Hendra tests could be as quick as 40 minutes, new research has discovered.

At present, Hendra tests can take days to confirm results, but research by the University of Queensland is set to reduce waiting times.

The new testing will allow veterinarians to validate tests within 30 to 40 minutes after taking a sample from a horse.

The test is still in development and is set to reduce both human exposure to infected animals and horse deaths due to delays in treatment.

It being led by University of Queensland's associate professor Ben Ahern, who specialises in equine surgery.

Prof Ahern said once validated and approved, the tests would be rolled out immediately.

"It ultimately will enable rapid appropriate treatment for horses, while limiting the exposure of the virus - before diagnosis - to those caring for them," he said.

"It will also reduce case mishandling errors due to delays in a diagnosis."

Associate Prof Ahern said the new test aimed to allow more rapid diagnosis of horses that might have Hendra virus disease.

"The current clinical issue is that the symptoms of Hendra virus are so broad and vague that infected horses are extremely hard to differentiate from some other more common issues like some colics for example".

As a result a more rapid accurate and safe test would be enormously helpful to enable more rapid treatment of horses and this is what we are trying to develop.

"It's not going to make a vaccine redundant. For preventing Hendra virus disease, vaccinating is still clearly the best prevention."

Prof Ahern said teams were already on track to making testing protocol available and were working with Biosecurity Queensland to validate the test.

At present, tests are processed in a single central lab, but the testing system being researched would allow veterinarians to run their own tests resulting in a much shorter turnaround time for a result.

"At present it takes about eight hours for a test result to be returned in general. If you're further away, it could take one to two days - and in that case your horse may not be able to be treated until a negative result is returned," Prof Ahern said.

Hendra virus is predominantly carried by flying foxes, but it can pass from flying foxes to horses, causing severe illness, and usually resulting in death.

Usual symptoms include fever, increased heart rate, difficulty or rapid breathing, depression, and weakness.

On rare occasions, the disease can be spread to humans.

The research has been backed by Equestrian NSW, who contributed $40,000 to the project.

The project is being administered by AgriFutures Australia.