There’s more than one virus on the minds of horse owners in certain parts of the country.
Aside from the coronavirus pandemic, horse owners along the Murray River are being urged to keep an eye out for symptoms of two mosquito-borne viruses.
Antibodies for Murray Valley encephalitis and the Kunjin virus have been found in sentinel chickens in South Australia’s Riverland.
Routine testing of the flock at Ramco, near Waikerie, revealed the antibodies and prompted a warning to horse owners.
SA’s chief veterinary officer Mary Carr said most animals infected with the viruses showed no symptoms at all.
The virus could cause some neurological disease because the virus affected the horse’s brain.
“Things like, if you can imagine having a migraine, the horse’s head is hanging down, the tongue may be hanging out,” Dr Carr said.
Dr Carr urged owners to call their local vet if they noticed any symptoms.
“We have programs in place to assist with the cost of the laboratory test to either rule in or rule out whether these diseases may be what’s causing the clinical signs,” Dr Carr said.
“It’s not overly likely that we’ll see cases, but we do want horse owners to be aware it could possibly happen.”
Mosquito-borne viruses rain-dependent
Dr Carr said mosquito-borne viruses were responsive to the climate at the time.
She said recent summer rainfall along Australia’s river systems would have contributed to the outbreak.
But she said it was unlikely that this year would be similar to a 2011 outbreak, where more than 100 horses became ill.
“There had also been a lot of summer rainfall at that time as well, we have had some, but certainly not to the extent that we had in 2011.
“So my interpretation of that is that we’re not as likely to see what happened in 2011 happen now,” Dr Carr said.
She said horse owners should take precautions, such as removing areas where mosquitoes can breed, such as tyres or pot plants with water sitting in them.
What are sentinel chickens?
Sentinel chickens provide early warning signs for disease and virus outbreaks.
Blood samples from the chickens are routinely taken and tested for mosquito-borne diseases in the environment.
Dr Carr said people should not be worried about their backyard chickens or consuming poultry when a virus outbreak is detected.
“The chickens themselves don’t pose a direct risk to human health.”