Deadly Hendra Virus Surfaces at Australian Vet Hospital: Two Horses Dead

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Red flying fox bat, originally uploaded by PRI's The World.
Hendra virus uses certain species of fruit bats as hosts. Habitat loss is being blamed for the spread of the virus.

It was only ten days ago that the state of Queensland in northeast Australia was declared free of Equine Influenza (EI). An outbreak of the highly contagious "flu" ran through Queensland and New South Wales over the past ten month, shutting down racing and showing, and even stopping the transport of horses on the roads.

But EI is a walk in the park compared to the supervirus known as the Hendra Virus, a virulent disease that is often fatal to horses and one which can--and does--jump from horses to humans. Race trainer Vic Rail died along with 14 horses during the initial outbreak of the virus in 1994. One case was reported in Australia in 2007.

Put bluntly, Hendra virus is often referred to as "the coming plague".

Australian authorities announced today that a veterinary hospital has been quarantined outside Brisbane. Two horses have died at the clinic. The virus is so powerful that a horse usually dies within 24 hours of contracting the virus.

Hendra is named for the suburb of Brisbane, Queensland where it was first found. In
that outbreak three human cases of Hendra virus disease were recognized. Two of the three individuals known to be infected had a respiratory illness with severe flu-like signs and symptoms. Consequently people who have contact with body fluids or excretions of horses infected with Hendra virus are at risk of contracting Hendra virus disease. Two of the three human patients infected with Hendra virus died.

A recent study of the dynamics of Hendra virus infection in its reservoir hosts (a species of Australian bat) suggests that environmental processes that alter flying fox food sources, such as habitat loss and climate change, may increase Hendra virus infection and transmission, and promote its spill over into other susceptible species...something else to blame on global warming!

Read the news report on the outbreak here.

(Information for this post was provided by the International Society for Infectious Diseases at Harvard University and the Australian Broadcasting Company.)

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