Racehorses unaffected by Hendra vaccination: study

An extensive study for the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission published in the Australian Veterinary Journal this week demonstrates that vaccinating against the Hendra virus does not reduce the chances of a horse winning.

A world-first study led by the University of Sydney has confirmed vaccination against the deadly Hendra virus does not affect the racing performance of thoroughbred horses.

The extensive study examined the Timeform rating of 1,154 thoroughbreds over 12,066 race starts and assessed their performance one and three months before and after vaccination, with no difference in form detected. Timeform rating is an established measure of a horse’s performance in a race that takes into account how the race was run and where the horse finished.

"The Queensland Racing Integrity Commission (QRIC) funded the ground-breaking study so industry regulators and participants can base their decisions on accurate information and science rather than rumour and speculation," Commissioner Ross Barnett said.

Associate Professor Navneet Dhand, who led the research team at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science , said: "This is one of the largest studies of its kind conducted to investigate the effect of any vaccine on horse racing performance anywhere in the world."

Lead author Dr Kathrin Schemann, a Research Fellow in Veterinary Biostatistics and Epidemiology, explained: "Analysing the performance of each horse before and after vaccination over a short time period was the best way to assess the impact of vaccination as each horse acted as its own control.

The QRIC’s chief vet Dr Martin Lenz said many factors could potentially affect the performance of racehorses, so it was important for the study to be large enough to distil out any impact that vaccination might have.

"The large numbers of horses and race starts examined means we can be confident of the findings, which back up the instincts of many astute trainers who already vaccinate their horses," Dr Lenz said.

The research was conducted by Dr Kathrin Schemann, Dr Ed Annand, Associate Professor Peter Thomson and Associate Professor Navneet Dhand of the Equine Infectious Disease Research Group; Dr Martin Lenz from QRIC and practising veterinarian Dr Peter Reid. Dr Reid has had extensive clinical involvement in the first recorded Hendra virus outbreak in 1994 and advises governments and industry. Dr Annand is also a practising veterinarian who attended the first cases of Australian bat lyssavirus in horses in 2013.

Photo credit: Softeis, Wikimedia Commons

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