The prosecution of three QLD veterinarians in recent years over their handling of horses infected with the Hendra virus has dissuaded some in the profession from working in the state, according to Equine Veterinarians Australia (EVA).
The three vets were the first in QLD to be charged under Section 28 of the Workplace Health and Safety Act for failing in their duty to take reasonable care of themselves and others.
EVA executive officer Jeffrey Wilkinson, who attended the court case of Dr Luke Annetts, from Bundaberg, which concluded earlier this week, said it was a shame the veterinarians were charged at all.
“The signs and symptoms of this deadly virus are so vague and variable,” he said. “The situations the veterinarians found themselves in could have happened to any veterinarian at any time.”
In March 2014, Dr Annetts was treating a horse with a history of respiratory disease when the owner asked him to put the animal down. It had previously shown no signs of Hendra virus, but during the procedure Dr Annetts noticed a nasal discharge that warranted testing for the disease. He warned the owner to be cautious around the carcass—and to alert anyone else who came into contact with it of the threat.
The horse was subsequently found to have the disease, and in court Dr Annetts was deemed to have not done enough to safeguard the owner.
Jeffrey Wilkinson said Hendra virus was difficult for even experienced vets to identify, and for some the risks were too daunting.
“There’s no doubt that the prosecutions have discouraged younger vets from looking at taking up equine veterinary positions in the state of Queensland,” he lamented.
“Our Queensland members are telling us that it is difficult to get both young and experienced vets to come and work in Hendra [virus] endemic areas.”
Wilkinson said the EVA was taking steps to encourage young vets, in particular, to specialise in equine health, but it would continue to be a challenge unless more people vaccinated their horses.
“Vaccination is the best thing to do,” he said.