Governments Provide Additional Funding for Hendra Research

Governments Provide Additional Funding for Hendra Research

New research will examine how hendra virus behaves in flying fox colonies, how horses and flying foxes interact, and how environmental factors impact the likelihood of the disease 'spilling over' from flying foxes to other animals, and more.

Photo: Justin Welbergen

As the number of confirmed cases of hendra virus continue to rise in Australia, Queensland and New South Wales have both committed $3 million for research into the deadly zoonotic disease.

The latest case of hendra was confirmed in New South Wales on July 28 after the horse was found dead in its pasture on July 24, according to numerous Australian news websites. The horse's home farm is now under quarantine.

The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 15; five were located in New South Wales while the other 10 were located in Queensland.

As Australian horse owners and veterinarians battle the most deadly hendra season on record, the Queensland and New South Wales governments have each pledged $3 million in funding over the next three years for research into the virus. The funding announcement came July 27.

"The increase in hendra incidents this year and yesterday's announcement of a positive case in a dog has raised new questions and challenges for our scientists," Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said in a press release issued Wednesday. "This additional investment will ramp up vital research to help us better understand and respond to the Hendra virus.

"This year we have seen an increase in the number of confirmed cases of hendra virus infection and our analysis of local flying fox population shows a rise in the number of flying foxes carrying the virus," she continued. "This additional funding will allow us to increase our understanding of why this may be happening and also how the disease is transmitted."

The press release indicated that the new funding would fuel research into:

  • Improving understanding of how the disease behaves in flying fox colonies;
  • How horses and flying foxes interact;
  • How environmental factors--such as food availability, temperature, and rainfall--impact the likelihood of the disease 'spilling over' from flying foxes to other animals;
  • A better understanding of what is driving flying fox movement and thus, the spread of the disease; and
  • Further laboratory studies to investigate the susceptibility and transmission of hendra virus in domestic species.

"If we can better understand what is occurring, we can put in place strategies to prevent disease in horses and, in turn, reduce the risk to people," Bligh said.

Hendra virus (which has killed at least 40 horses since its discovery) has been known to yield numerous clinical signs in horses including respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated body temperature (above 40°C, or 104°F), and elevated heart rate; however, authorities caution that hendra infection does not have specific signs.

The zoonotic disease is transmissible to humans and has killed four people since it was first discovered in 1994, including an equine veterinarian who contracted the virus after treating an affected foal in 2009.

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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