Research towards vaccine against Ross River virus launched
GROUND-breaking research towards a vaccine, similar to what solved the deadly Hendra virus, will give the horse racing industry a weapon in its arsenal against Ross River virus.
The mystery of the disease led to the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission partnering with the University of Queensland researchers to find out more.
The commission acknowledged Ross River virus was an issue in race horses but was unsure of its full extent.
The commision's director of veterinary services and animal welfare, Martin Lenz, said the initial trials would aim to establish how the virus impacts race horses.
They're hoping to attract funding to advance the research further.
Mr Lenz said the number of diseases than could affect a race horse's performance made exact diagnosis particularly complicated.
"We don't really know how the virus does its thing, how the infection progresses and we are very keen to know the answers to it," Mr Lenz said.
"What the infection actually does and how it presents. That's the next important step."
A number of high-profile Queensland trainers and breeders are adamant the disease had crippled the performance of their runners and cost them thousands.
Mr Lenz accepted their claims but said the complicated nature behind it was why it had taken so long for treatment to get under way.
The research trial will involve blood samples being collected to give researchers a broader picture on the disease.
Mr Lenz said the next stage of the trial would involve the researchers infecting horses with Ross River virus and carefully monitoring horses and their clinical signs.
"That's where it gets tricky," he said.
"It's not straight forward, but it is interesting and new work. Stuff that hasn't been done.
"The hope is obviously to get to a point to establish the incidents, the exact cause.
"Then we can prevent horses becoming infected or sick.
"It is something the wider industry is quite concerned about and an end point of a vaccine would be a nice tool to have."
Mr Lenz said researchers could take confidence of the successful studies towards a vaccination for the Hendra virus.
"23 years ago when it (Hendra virus) first reared its head, we knew nothing about it or how to treat it, but we have come along way and were successful with a vaccine."