Hendra Causes Horse Death in Queensland, Australia

According to reports coming out of Queensland, Australia, a filly that died Saturday (Aug. 8) was confirmed as having hendra.

Last year an equine veterinarian died of the virus.

At that time TheHorse.com quoted Biosecurity Queensland Chief Veterinary Officer Ron Glanville, BSc, BVSc, MVS, as saying, "This is one of the most deadly viruses known to man. It has a mortality rate in horses of over 70%."

The virus has only been reported in Australia. Fruit bats (known as flying foxes in Australia) indigenous to the continent appear to be its natural host. Typical equine clinical signs of Hendra include respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated heart rate, and increased body temperature. Some horses display neurologic signs, such as head-pressing or twitching, while others might appear to be colicky.

For more information on Hendra to to the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, from which is taken the following information.  


Flying foxes (bats) are the natural hosts for Hendra virus. The virus can spread from flying foxes to horses and very rarely, to people. It is a notifiable disease and all suspected cases in horses must be reported to Biosecurity Queensland--part of the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.
Where the Disease Occurs

Hendra virus was first isolated in 1994 from an outbreak of disease at a stable in the suburb of Hendra, Brisbane. Since then, more than 30 cases of Hendra virus in horses have been detected on or east of the Great Dividing Range from Cairns to northern New South Wales. However, Hendra virus could potentially occur wherever there are flying foxes.
The Disease in Animals

Hendra virus can cause a range of clinical signs and should be considered where there is acute onset, fever, and rapid progression to death associated with either respiratory or neurological signs. Most cases in horses are fatal, but occasionally a horse will survive the infection. The reported mortality rate in affected horses is greater than 70%. No other animal is known to be infected naturally.
Control of Disease in Animals

Where Hendra virus has been confirmed as the cause of illness or death in horses, Biosecurity Queensland will manage the situation. The property where the outbreak has occurred will be quarantined and any ill animals will be isolated. A full disease investigation will be conducted and measures taken to care for animals, prevent the risk to people, decontaminate the environment, and safely dispose of infected horses that die.
How People Get the Disease

Six cases of human infection have been recorded, of which three have died. Human infections have occurred from handling infected horses (ill horses and during autopsies), so great care should be taken in regard to personal protective measures. In particular, contact with blood and other body fluids (especially respiratory and nasal secretions, saliva, and urine) and tissues should not occur.

There is no evidence of human-to-human spread or human-to-horse spread of Hendra virus.
Treatments for People

Contamination should be avoided, but if it occurs, the contaminated skin should be washed thoroughly with soap and water, ideally by taking a shower. Any cuts or abrasions that become exposed or contaminated should be cleansed thoroughly with soap and water. If available, an antiseptic with anti-virus action such as povidone-iodine, iodine tincture, aqueous iodine solution, or alcohol (ethanol) should be applied after washing.

When Hendra virus is suspected and potential human exposure occurs, medical advice should be sought and a Queensland Health Population Health Unit should be contacted.
Keys to Preventing the Disease in People

Suspect cases of Hendra virus must be reported to Biosecurity Queensland. Contact with suspect horses should be avoided until a veterinarian has investigated and provided advice on handling affected horses safely. All those involved in investigating a suspect case of Hendra virus must wear full protective clothing: impervious overalls, boots, gloves, respirator mask, and face shield.

Biosecurity Queensland will contact Queensland Health whenever Hendra virus is confirmed or strongly suspected. Queensland Health will then work with the horse owner and attending veterinarians to decide whether any people require monitoring and medical assistance.
For more on the most recent horse death see horsetalk.co.nz and theaustralian.news.com.au.


About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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