HAPPIER TIMES: Gem Antrobus and her beloved horse Bella.
HAPPIER TIMES: Gem Antrobus and her beloved horse Bella. Contributed

Autopsy rules out hendra as cause of death

AN AUTOPSY on a Cooloola Cove horse at the centre of a social media storm this month has revealed the animal died of cancer, not the hendra vaccine.

The plight of Bella, cherished family pet of horse lover Gem Antrobus, came to the attention of the media this month when a band of volunteers in Tin Can Bay rallied around Gem and her family to help nurse Bella through her illness.

The previously healthy quarter horse paint collapsed 10 days after being vaccinated against the deadly hendra virus and some anti-vaccination commentators blamed the vaccine.

Sadly, Bella succumbed to her symptoms, and now the autopsy on her body has concluded she had extensive cancerous tumours in her abdominal cavity, spinal musculature and spinal canal.

For Workplace Health and Safety reasons, many equine vets, including Gympie and District Veterinary Services, have introduced a policy of refusing to treat unvaccinated horses - the virus has a high mortality rate in infected humans.

This policy has angered some horse owners who say the vaccine is too expensive and has too many questions surrounding its safety.

Mrs Antrobus said this week "many people" had contacted her after hearing of Bella's illness.

"An independent vet is currently investigating 40 cases of reactions and they all have the same or similar symptoms to Bella," she said.

"Scientists are looking into a 12-month booster, as at the moment our horses have to get booster shoots every six months for the rest of their lives.

"That's a lot of drugs in such a short period of time. We aren't the only ones concerned; there is so many people out there fighting for their horses life after getting them vaccinated since 2013; our horses' deaths won't be in vain."

Gympie equine vet Justin Schooth said yesterday the pathologist's report on Bella's autopsy showed her cancer had been a "very slow growing" one.

"In the pathologist's opinion there is no way that cancer could have grown in the time since she had the vaccine," Dr Schooth said.

"They could not see any link."

In other words, Bella's condition was terminal before she was vaccinated.

Dr Schooth said three cancers were found in Bella: A large one (20cm x 40cm) in the abdominal cavity, one in the spinal musculature, and (the one mostly responsible for Bella's symptoms) cancer in the spinal canal itself.

"The one thing I don't want to see from all the mistruths out there, I don't want to see someone choose to not vaccinate their horse because of it, and then for the horse or themselves to get the virus," he said.

"That would be an absolute tragedy."