By Phoebe Baker

A vaccine to protect horses from the deadly Hendra virus, which has killed four people in Australia, could be available next year.

CSIRO has announced that it has made “successful progress” in developing an experimental vaccine to combat the virus.

Dr Deborah Middleton of the CSIRO’s Animal Health Laboratory said in a statement that their trials have shown that the vaccine prevents the infection of horses with Hendra virus.

“A horse vaccine is crucial to breaking the cycle of Hendra virus transmission from flying foxes to horses and then to people, as it prevents both the horse developing the disease and passing it on,” she said.

Depending on how the trials develop over the next few months, the vaccine could be ready by 2012.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) has welcomed news of the vaccine, but the association’s president Dr Barry Smyth said in a statement that horse owners should continue measures they have in place currently to contain Hendra virus.

“It’s important that veterinarians and horse owners continue with precautions that reduce the risk of spreading the virus and that they report suspected cases immediately,” he said.