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26th July 2011
News of Dusty the dog testing positive to Hendra Virus
On the 20th June, Duke, one of the Fearon family's ten horses fell critically ill and despite immediate veterinary attention the vet believed he had a twisted bowel and was terminal.  The decision was made to end his suffering and Duke was gone.  Colic, a tragic event most horse owners fear. 

The 29th June, news broke of this years first detected case of Hendra in a horse at Beaudesert.  Two days later the second outbreak was announced on a property at Wollongbar in NSW.  The same day, 1st July a second horse known as Magic, by name and by nature, fell critically ill on the Fearon's property ringing alarm bells.  Again despite immediate veterinary attention and treatment, failed to respond and Magic was euthanased on humane grounds and samples despatched to Biosecurity for testing. 

Every horse owners worst fear was realised when the results came back positive to Hendra.  The 2nd July news of the third outbreak in four days broke around the country sparking fear in many and turning the Fearon family's life upside down.  Blood samples from the first horse were then sent for exclusion testing and confirmed it too had succumb to the virus.  With two horses now dead, their property quarantined, biosecurity staff in space suits, media confronting them another of their horses named Kid starting to show symptoms consistent with the virus.  Could this nightmare get any worse for this family?  Much worse... as the third horse was confirmed infected and rapidly deteriorating, another of their beloved horses was euthanased.  The remaining seven horses on their property under quarantine were to go through a series of 3 rounds of testing to clear them of the virus.  The family and their veterinarian also had to go through the agonising wait for tests to see if any of them had contracted the virus.    Surely this nightmare could get no worse for them?  That it did, and their story needs to be told.
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Site Published:  16th April 2010
Page added:    5th September 2011

Like most who have found themselves in the middle of a Hendra outbreak Neil and Liz Fearon had many questions that could not be answered.  Fearing for the safety of their family, when Biosecurity officers asked "you don't mind if we test the dogs?" they had no objections and complied with authorities, thinking this was just crossing all the t's and dotting the i's.  At the time of agreeing to this testing they were completely unaware that if any of their three dogs tested positive they would be destroyed under National Guidelines.

Dog owner Neil Fearon says he was unaware when he agreed to have the family's three dogs tested for hendra virus that it would be compulsory to euthanise any that tested positive. Read More>

By the 26th July there had been a further nine confirmed outbreaks spanning from Northern Queensland to Northern NSW, bringing the total number of separate outbreaks at that stage to 12 in little more than a month.  The news nobody expected, Dusty the dog had tested positive to the virus and would have to be put down.

An outpouring of public anger over Dusty's pending fate as news spread quickly around the world that the first ever known case of Hendra virus in a dog sparked  public campaigns in the media and social networking sites trying to get a stay of execution for Dusty.  Neil and Liz Fearon were emotionally drained and fought hard to see Dusty kept alive.  Barristers Animal Welfare Panel (BAWP) offered pro-bono legal assistance to the Fearon family plight to save Dusty, all to no avail.  On the following weekend, the second round of test results came back from AAHL in Geelong, confirming Dusty had developed antibodies and must be destroyed.  The Fearon family made the heartbreaking decision to have Dusty put down in the privacy of their own property by their family vet.

As if this family had not been through enough, three horses lost to the virus,  then being told their son's "best mate" Dusty, who had never shown any sign of illness was now deemed by authorities a risk of transmitting the virus.  It is little wonder they were angry and wanting answers. 

Listen to a powerful interview with Neil and Liz Fearon, speaking with David Oldfield of Sydney 2UE

I spoke on air with Greg Cary of 4BC at the time and later with Neil after the news of Dusty was released. I was alarmed to learn from Neil that they were certain Dusty had never had contact with any of the three sick or dead horses.  I can attest to what Neil and Liz said on air, that at least two people who had endured previous Hendra outbreaks had specifically asked for their dogs to be tested and Biosecurity had refused testing saying it was not necessary.  The issue of testing dogs has previously been raised on this website after the vet involved in the 2006 Peachester case in a horse, was refused testing of what she believed may have been Hendra in dogs.  See History Repeats page. 

As public fear and anger grew, the Bligh Government furiously tried to quell concerns, apparently with little or no regard to the validity of what they were telling the public.  As vital information about this and other outbreaks gets shared between the scientists, so too were the inaccurate details that had been publicised by Queensland authorities.  So much for the new joint border Taskforce supposedly to share information and work co-operatively on how to better manage the risks of this deadly virus. 

For this reason there are a number of issues that must be exposed.  The authorities must be held to account and start dealing with this very real, and as it now turns out, fairly common problem.

        Absence of evidence is NOT evidence of absence!

26th July - Media Release by DEEDI - states:
Queensland Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Rick Symons said this was an unprecedented situation.  “This is the first time outside of a laboratory that an animal other than a flying fox or a horse, or a human, has been confirmed with Hendra virus infection,” Dr Symons said.

“The dog is on a property where Hendra virus infection has been confirmed and is currently under quarantine. 

“Biosecurity Queensland’s policy is to test cats and dogs on properties where there are infected horses. 

Authorities later contradicted themselves by stating this had been voluntary but they were considering now making it mandatory to test cats and dogs on properties where Hendra is confirmed in a horse.

As of 5th September on DEEDI's website page FAQ's about Hendra and Dogs it states:

Do I need to get my dog tested for Hendra virus?

Biosecurity Queensland conducts risk assessments on infected properties to determine if dogs should be tested for Hendra virus. Current policy states dogs that have had close contact with confirmed Hendra virus positive horses will be tested.

It is not a general policy for Biosecurity Queensland to conduct Hendra virus tests on all animals on an infected Hendra virus property unless they have had close contact with a confirmed Hendra virus positive horse.

There is no requirement for dogs that have not been in contact with a confirmed Hendra virus positive horse to be tested for Hendra virus.
26th July - Brisbane Times article - states:
Dr Symons said because the virus had spread among horses on the property, it was believed to have also spread to the dog because of contact it had with a horse.

“We know that that property had three horses affected ... we know that transmission has occurred on that property. We know that one of the horses lay for a while and the access of dogs to that is quite plausible, that the dogs contacted that. We don’t exactly know because we weren’t there at the time,” he said.
Plausible - Yes  /  Possible - NO
The location at the back of the property where it is believed Biosecurity found 'evidence' of bat foraging in the trees, is where the first horse is believed to have come in contact and contracted the virus.  The second and third horses to succumb to the virus were kept in the same paddock and did have contact with the first horse when it became ill.   The time frame from the first horse death to the second and third deaths was perfect incubation timing being 11 and 13 days respectfully. 

None of the 3 dogs frequented the back of the property on their own.  Dusty was never a dog that liked horses, when walking or working in the paddocks he would invariably go off to explore long grass for small critters.  The 20th June when Duke fell sick was no different, Dusty was in the paddock with the family members, but at no time was near or had any direct contact with Duke either before or after he was euthanased.

Magic was the second horse to fall victim 11 days later, she too went down at the back of the property not far from the treed area, and close to where Duke had succumb.  Again Dusty did not have contact with Magic.

When the property was quarantined and sampling of the remaining horses began, the third horse started displaying symptoms and was isolated in a stable away from all other animals.  The dogs were kept isolated from all the horses on the property, kept in the house and or on the verandah, under supervision they were walked and kept away from the horses.  At no time did Dusty have contact of any sort with the third horse when it was sick, nor after it was euthanased.

Biosecurity officers were advised of these facts, by the owners Neil and Liz Fearon, yet authorities have repeatedly stated in the media the dog most likely became infected after contacting one of the horses.

27th July - ABC Media states:
Queensland's chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young says it is necessary to euthanise the dog, even though it has developed antibodies to hendra virus.

She says all companion animals on quarantined properties have been tested since the death of Redlands vet Dr Ben Cunneen in 2008.
Absolutely not true.  The truth is that at least two people involved in separate outbreaks after Ben Cunneen's death had dogs that had very close contact with dead confirmed positive Hendra horses.  Their dogs were not tested.

Also in the
Logan West Leader newspaper (3 August 2011), the owner Chris Rookwood that lost his horse to the virus 28th June and confirmed on the 22nd July positive to Hendra virus said,  "I've been expecting Biosecurity (Queensland officers) to say they want to test them (two dogs) but they haven't said anything and they still come every day to the horses."

27th July - Brisbane Times article states:
Queensland’s chief vet Rick Symons said the ‘‘overwhelming evidence’’ was that the dog had contracted the disease from the sick horses on the property.

‘‘They do eat horse poo and they do lick the horses,’’ he said.  ’’... We know that horses put out a lot of virus so the obvious answer is that the dog got the virus from the horse.’’
Overwhelming evidence?  Based on what?
The owners advised Biosecurity officers, including the investigating Epidemiologist that Dusty at no time had any contact what-so-ever with any of the sick or dead horses.
27th July - Brisbane Times article states:
Queensland's chief vet, Rick Symons, said the family was understandably upset at the potential loss of their dog.  He disagreed with reports the family were unaware Dusty would probably be put down.

"What we try to do is to talk to them around that, but our policy is that we do tell them and I have spoken to the people involved and they were told in this case," Dr Symons said.  Dr Symons said he has spoken to the Fearon family himself.
Personally speaking with the family after the results came back positive is very different to explaining what would happen at the time of testing.

Having a 'policy' and ensuring that policy is always implemented are two completely different things.   Their policy states (see FAQ's about Hendra and Dogs).

"Biosecurity Queensland conducts risk assessments on infected properties to determine if dogs should be tested for Hendra virus."

So how is that 'risk assessment' conducted?  The Fearon family were adamant that none of their 3 dogs had contact of any sort to the sick or dead horses.
Risk Assessment & Policy
Less than a month later the 16th separate confirmed outbreak in little more than 2 months on the 23rd August, a horse in the Currumbin Valley tested positive to the virus.  With 22 horses remaining on the property, Biosecurity officers moved into the property to investigate and sample.

When viewing the photos here one is left wondering just how this risk assessment policy is conducted.   The first confirmed case on a Queensland property since the crisis meetings after Dusty the dog was found to be positive.
So with their 'risk assessment' completed, and full PPE gear donned, off they go to the stable area... With dog in toe...
Dusty - much loved member of the Fearon Family who will remember you always for the joy you brought into their home.
Kid - Born February 2009
Kid - Born February 2009
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More to come on this page.  Please bookmark and visit again.
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