Hendra virus (HeV) is an emerging bat-borne virus endemic in Australia that can be transmitted from horses to humans and has a high fatality rate for horses and people. Controversy surrounding HeV risk mitigation measures have strained the veterinarian-horse owner relationship. This study aimed to characterise the veterinarian-horse owner relationship in general and also in the context of HeV by analysing data derived from the ‘Horse Owners and Hendra Virus: A Longitudinal Study to Evaluate Risk’ (HHALTER) study. Australian horse owners were recruited via emails, social media and word-of-mouth for a series of five surveys that were administered online at six-monthly intervals over a two-year period to capture baseline knowledge, attitudes and practices of horse owners regarding HeV and any changes over time. In the current study, descriptive analyses of information sources were performed to understand the use of veterinarians as a HeV information source (Surveys 1 and 5; n = 1195 and n = 617). Ordinal logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine factors associated with the frequency of horse owner contact with a veterinarian (Survey 3; n = 636). This study found a relative increase over the study period in the proportion of horse owners who had used veterinarians as HeV information source in the last 12 months (from 51.9% to 88.3%). Owning more horses, being older, having a ‘duty of care’ for other people working with horses and deriving the main income from horse related business were factors associated with more frequent veterinary contact. Results suggest that traditional information sources such as workshops, information packs and risk training are likely to be used by horse owners. Smart phone applications should be considered for use in the future and require further investigation for horse health communication. The findings of this study may be helpful in optimising strategies for horse health information delivery.
- Hendra virus