Dusty, the dog who tested positive for Hendra virus exposure on a Queensland farm, has been euthanized. The owners confirmed through their Member of Parliament that their pet had been euthanized voluntarily, rather than waiting for Biosecurity Queensland to compel them to do so.

Based on publicly available information, this seems like an illogical and unnecessary response, as well as an unethical approach by the government because it did not explain the implications of a positive result when they ask for voluntary testing of the dog.

The family said Dusty was euthanized because "most recent blood tests confirmed that he carried Hendra virus antibodies, which meant he was able to shed the virus to other animals." However, that’s false. If government officials told them that, that’s incredibly frustrating, disappointing and concerning. Antibodies have nothing to do with being infectious. I carry antibodies in my blood to a wide range of viral diseases that I’ve had over the course of my life. That doesn’t mean that I still have the viruses in m. The presence of antibodies simply means the body has been exposed and mounted an immune response.

All information that I’ve seen so far indicates that there’s no evidence that the dog was shedding virus and therefore no evidence that it posed a potential infectious risk. Furthermore, an experimental study from 1994 showed that infected dogs did not shed the virus. So, unless there are new data that aren’t being released, euthanasia is a completely unnecessary and illogical response, probably based more on fear of liability than any evidence or reasonable assessment of risk. It would have been better to quarantine and monitor the dog, to prevent unnecessary euthanasia and to learn more about this virus in dogs.

If evidence indicating a true risk of transmission of Hendra virus from pets exists, this information needs to be released so that other pet owners in Queensland know what the situation is. If not, more common sense needs to be used when dealing with this disease in such animals.

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This Worms & Germs blog entry was originally posted on equIDblog on 01-Aug-11.