Hendra virus

Parliament house flag post

Hendra virus

Posted 30/08/2011 by Roger Beckmann

Horse being tested for Equine Influenza
Hendra virus is in the news again. In the last month, the disease has struck in the Gold Coast hinterland and again in northern New South Wales. The Queensland and New South Wales governments have provided additional funding of $6 million over three years for further research.

Hendra virus can live in horses, bats, humans and, as recent events have demonstrated, dogs. This is a nasty virus. About 70% of horses who get the disease will die from it. Of even more concern is the fact that it has also proved fatal to people. Where did it come from, and what can be done about it?

It seems that the virus probably originated in ‘flying foxes’ (also known as fruit bats). These animals don’t show signs of illness when they are infected, which suggests that they have adapted to the virus over time. When the virus enters a completely different host – such as horses or people – it can cause severe illness and death. Although not yet proved conclusively, it seems likely that horses acquire the virus from bats. The virus is present in the urine, faeces, blood, and amniotic fluid of bats. When these find their way onto whatever the horse is eating, there is a possibility of infection. Infected horses will release the virus in nasal secretions, urine and saliva, but the virus doesn’t travel in exhaled air. Virus release can happen before obvious symptoms are present, and will continue during the course of the disease. In this way, other horses nearby can become infected.

Transmission to humans can also occur by means of contact with horse secretions. However, this route is not easy. In the seventeen years since the disease appeared, many people have had contact with infected horses without getting sick. Just seven people are known to have become infected with the virus in this time; tragically, four of these have died, including the first known human case in 1994. It is possible that dogs can get infected from close contact with infected horses. The dog that was known to be infected had tested positive to antibodies but showed no outward sign of sickness.

Queensland DPI reports that laboratory studies have shown that other species including cats, guinea pigs, ferrets and pigs can all develop disease when injected with Hendra virus in an experimental setting. Rabbits and dogs developed antibodies to Hendra virus in an experimental setting, but did not develop any signs of illness. The likelihood of virus transmission in a real world situation, however, is not the same as being injected with the virus in a lab.

There is no cure for the disease in either humans or horses and, so far, no commercial vaccine to prevent it. However, CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) is working on a vaccine for horses which should be available for field trials in 2012.

Unique to Australia
The virus has not been reported from anywhere else in the world. It was completely unknown until 1994, when a ‘mystery’ disease appeared in some horses in Brisbane. AAHL subsequently isolated the virus and identified it, naming it Hendra after the Brisbane suburb where it first appeared. Initially the disease was known as equine morbillivirus, until further research revealed the nature of the virus. The disease is not the same as, or related to, equine influenza. AAHL has developed a diagnostic kit for the disease, so the virus can be accurately identified in infected animals.

Latest Outbreaks
Nine locations in Queensland have had confirmed Hendra virus cases this year, and the number of confirmed horse deaths in the state is eleven. Further information from can be found on the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries site.

In 2011, there have been a number of outbreaks in northern NSW, resulting in ten horse deaths.

Is a bat cull required?
Some people have suggested that flying foxes should be culled to prevent further outbreaks of this disease. The Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries argues against this. They point out that flying foxes are widespread in Australia and, as they are highly mobile, it is not feasible to cull them all. And culling or dispersing flying foxes in one location could simply transfer the issue elsewhere. Furthermore, flying foxes are a protected species and play an important environmental role, as they pollinate native trees and spread seeds.

Experts consider it unlikely that bats could transmit the disease directly to humans. There has been no recorded case of transmission in that way, and there is no evidence that it can occur. Equally, however, there is no evidence that would absolutely rule it out. However, it would require ingesting something contaminated with bat urine, faeces or blood. Hendra is not a highly infectious virus; it appears to require more than just casual exposure.

Handling fruit bats, however, is not a good idea as they can also carry lyssavirus and it is known that they can infect humans with this. But that's another story.

Image sourced from: NSW Department of Primary Industries


Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print

FlagPost

Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament


Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Archive

Syndication

Tagcloud

refugees asylum immigration Australian foreign policy Parliament climate change elections women social security Indigenous Australians Australian Bureau of Statistics Employment Sport illicit drugs people trafficking taxation Medicare welfare reform Australian Defence Force higher education welfare policy United Nations health financing Asia income management Middle East criminal law disability Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget gambling school education forced labour aid statistics Australian Electoral Commission WADA emissions trading dental health Australia in the Asian Century steroids detention Private health insurance OECD ASADA labour force transport Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Industrial Relations people smuggling National Disability Insurance Scheme Australian Crime Commission slavery Senate election results Papua New Guinea Australian Public Service constitution International Women's Day corruption Afghanistan Fair Work Act child protection debt federal election 2013 parliamentary procedure poker machines ALP New Zealand Newstart Parenting Payment 43rd Parliament political parties Census High Court skilled migration voting Federal Court terrorist groups Higher Education Loan Program HECS youth paid parental leave Aviation environment foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability customs doping health crime health risks multiculturalism aged care Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery sea farers Special Rapporteur leadership United Kingdom UK Parliament Electoral reform politics banking firearms public policy violence against women domestic violence mental health China ADRV terrorism social media pensions welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation governance public service reform Carbon Pricing Mechanism carbon tax mining military history employer employee fishing by-election European Union same sex relationships international relations coal seam gas family assistance planning United Nations Security Council Australian economy food vocational education and training Drugs health reform Indonesia children codes of conduct terrorist financing health system money laundering asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Population Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity science research and development Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse federal state relations World Trade Organization Australia accountability housing affordability bulk billing water renewable energy children's health health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation expertise Senators and Members climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry food labelling Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government local government consumer laws PISA royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition Parliamentary remuneration Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol energy forced marriage rural and regional Northern Territory Emergency Response ministries social citizenship human rights High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories workers Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery transparency corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation standards NATO Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly public health smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine regional unemployment asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency productivity human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies trade unions same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders public housing prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines Somalia GDP forestry world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission regulation limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders animal health live exports welfare systems infant mortality middle class welfare honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Constitutional reform referendum Rent Assistance competition policy pharmaceutical benefits scheme obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant homelessness regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Youth Allowance Members suspension citizen engagement policymaking federal election 2010 workplace health and safety Trafficking in Persons Report marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament alcohol Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act entitlements political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing Hung Parliament political education social inclusion Social Inclusion Board maritime early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin Iran sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits

Show all
Show less
Back to top