The first case of Hendra virus (HeV) in 2014 has been confirmed in a horse from South Kolan, Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia. After testing positive for the virus, the horse was euthanized. Biosecurity Queensland has placed the property under quarantine, and a neighboring site containing horses that potentially had contact with the infected horse has been quarantined as well.
Hendra virus (HeV) first emerged in September 1994 in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra, Queensland, Australia. With an incubation period in horses between five and 16 days, and a case fatality rate of approximately 75 percent, death occurs rapidly. Infected horses may exhibit fever, lethargy, labored breathing, and frothy discharge.
According to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, flying foxes, also known as fruit bats, are the natural reservoir of Hendra virus. The exact route of transmission remains unclear, but theories suggest that horses ingest materials contaminated by bodily fluids or excretions of flying foxes. Although rare, human cases have occurred as a result of exposure to body fluids (e.g. respiratory secretions or blood) of HeV infected horses.
Horse owners in the surrounding areas are now being urged to have their horses vaccinated against Hendra virus with the Equivac HeV vaccine that was approved for use in late 2012. Since the vaccine was released, more than 80,000 horses have been vaccinated, however equine veterinarians note that for continued effectiveness a booster shot is required every six months. Despite taking appropriate measures to prevent infection on the Bundaberg property, the infected horse had not been vaccinated.
While vaccination is one of the most important HeV prevention measures available, there are other measures that could help prevent the spread of the disease. Officials suggest that removing food and water containers from under flowering or fruiting trees, which may attract flying foxes, and removal of horses from paddocks when flying foxes are active (typically from dusk until dawn), could help reduce HeV transmission.
For more on Hendra from the Disease Daily: