Hendra Virus Found in Flying Fox in South Australia

Hendra Virus Found in Flying Fox in South Australia

This is the first time hendra has been detected in that state. Area horse owners are urged to take precautionary measures to minimize their animals' contact with flying foxes.

Photo: Justin Welbergen

Hendra virus has been detected in a tissue sample taken from flying fox bats that died in North Adelaide, South Australia, officials announced Jan. 18, marking the first time the disease has been detected in that state. Because the disease can be deadly in horses, animal health officials are urging owners to take precautionary measures to minimize the chance of their animals contracting the disease.

The cause of the deaths of about 100 flying foxes has been investigated and tests showed one sample was positive for the virus. Although still to be confirmed, it's likely heat stress was the most likely cause of the bats' deaths.

South Australia Chief Veterinary Officer Rob Rahaley BSc, MSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVT, MACVSc, said people should be alert but not alarmed by the discovery of the virus in local flying foxes. Hendra virus can be transmitted to horses but some simple precautions can be taken by horse owners to minimize the risk.

"While this is the first time hendra virus has been found in bats in South Australia, it was expected as our flying fox population most likely originated from Victoria and New South Wales, where evidence of hendra virus infection in flying foxes was demonstrated some time ago," Rahaley said. "It has always been assumed local flying foxes would have a similar status to animals in those states.

"However we believe local factors such as vegetation and climate mean the risk to South Australian horses is much lower than it is in Queensland and northern New South Wales," he continued. "It is important to note that, to date, hendra virus has never been detected in a horse in South Australia, Victoria, or southern New South Wales. But the discovery serves as a reminder to all South Australian horse owners to take steps to minimize the potential for contact between flying foxes and horses."

Rahaley said owners should prevent their horses being near fruiting and flowering trees that flying foxes might frequent, and should also cover feed bins and water troughs.

"Horse owners should immediately contact their vet if their horse is unwell," Rahaley stressed. "Biosecurity South Australia will work with veterinarians if needed to rule out hendra virus. Likewise, if owners have any concerns or questions about the virus, they should discuss these with their vet."

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