Queensland’s leading racehorse trainer hopes new research will yield weapons to fight the deadly Hendra virus.
Scientists and Hendra experts are meeting in Brisbane on Thursday to decide how best to spend $12 million in new funding for Hendra research.
Trainer Rob Heathcote said an outbreak of the bat-borne virus in horseracing circles would be devastating, like the equine flu outbreak that hit the industry in 2007.
“It will take one case and they will shut this multimillion-dollar industry down,” Heathcote told AAP.
“This year the Hendra cases seemed to come out of nowhere and it just got worse. Next July’s bat breeding season could even be worse still.
“I hope they do find out more about it because the racing industry cannot afford to be shut down.”
Queensland Agriculture Minister Tim Mulherin, who will convene the inaugural Hendra Virus Science Congress, said scientists would present papers on 16 short-listed research projects.
The best of them would be funded, with interest centred on why there was such a dramatic spike in 2011, transmission prevention strategies, and how to detect and respond to Hendra incidents.
Up until this year, there were 14 instances of the Hendra virus from 1994 to 2010, all of them in Queensland.
“What we saw this year was a proliferation of outbreaks. We had 10 incidents in Queensland, and eight in NSW. Prior to that it was just a Queensland disease,” Mulherin told ABC radio.
“Through this process today, we’ll have a collective direction for Hendra virus research which … I believe will bring us ever closer to our goal of ensuring the protection of humans, and animal health.”
He said a lot of progress had been made since Hendra was first detected in 1994.
That included the CSIRO’s development of a vaccine to protect horses from the virus. The vaccine is due for commercial release in 2013.
Queensland Horse Council president Debbie Dekker said the 2011 spike had refocused efforts on battling the virus.
“We really needed this scare … the horse industry really got its act together and started calling for more funding and action,” she told ABC radio.
“I’ll just be listening to what the research is going to be investigating.”