Hendra: People Testing Negative for Virus

In the wake of a euthanized horse testing positive for the Hendra virus in Queensland, Australia, 11 people are being tested for the disease. Six had reportedly cleared the preliminary test May 21, and all are expected to test negative.

Ron Glanville, BSc, BVSc, MVS, chief veterinary officer for Biosecurity Queensland, confirmed that a horse in Tewantin on the Sunshine Coast was euthanized May 17. Biosecurity Queensland was made aware of the positive results May 21. A second horse on the property tested negative on initial blood tests. Glanville said that the horse "is being monitored closely, but is not showing any signs of being unwell."

Because the Hendra virus has a high fatality rate in both horses and humans and can be passed from horses to people, the 11 potentially exposed to the horse are undergoing tests. Six had passed the first test, while the other three were awaiting results, according to the Brisbane Times.

Biosecurity Queensland and Queensland Health had officials available to provide information at a pony club show in Queensland that proceeded as scheduled over the weekend. The officials are keeping people up-to-date on the Hendra virus as well as the recent positive.

Fruit bats (also called flying foxes) appear to be the natural host for the Hendra virus. The disease has only been reported in Australia, first in 1994, and is rare in that country.

"People who own horses in all areas where fruit bats live should remain vigilant for Hendra virus," said Glanville. "Biosecurity Queensland urges anyone who suspects Hendra virus in their horse to contact Biosecurity Queensland immediately."

Glanville added that Biosecurity Queensland is continually researching the Hendra virus in fruit bats to develop risk-reduction strategies and to learn why several emerging diseases seem to be originating from the species.

"Our scientists are investigating the factors that lead to spillover from bats to horses," he said, "in particular linkages to the reproductive cycle, as well as whether there are periodic epidemics of Hendra virus in bat populations. Current mechanisms being looked at include horses eating or coming into contact with partially eaten fruit, spats (fibrous material spat out by bats after eating fruit), urine, or birthing material."

Scientists are working on a vaccine for Hendra virus, but it is estimated that a vaccine is at least five years away. A vaccine has been successfully tested in ferrets, and a trial in horses is being prepared.

"There's two things we are trying to do here--one is to protect horses, and ensure that even though a horse doesn't have the disease, that it is not shedding virus and not posing a risk to either veterinarians or horse owners," Dr. Martyn Jeggo told the Brisbane Times. Jeggo is the lab director for the Australian Animal Health Laboratory of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Victoria.

For further information on the Hendra virus, visit Biosecurity Queensland.

About the Author

Tracy Gantz

Tracy Gantz is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She is the Southern California correspondent for The Blood-Horse and a regular contributor to Paint Horse Journal, Paint Racing News, and Appaloosa Journal.

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