Equine Hospital Worker Diagnosed with Deadly Hendra Virus in Australia

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This just in from the International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID) at Harvard University; please see other posts on this blog from the past week for more on the deadly Hendra virus and the recent spate of cases in the vicinty of the Australian city of Brisbane.

Begin report:

Queensland Health has confirmed that a person working at veterinary clinic on Brisbane's bayside has contracted infection with the potentially deadly Hendra virus. The person was among a number tested for the virus after several horses contracted the disease at a Redlands veterinary hospital. So far all other people who had been in close contact with the sick horses remain well.

Queensland Health's Dr Brad McCall says the worker was admitted to a Brisbane hospital yesterday [14 Jul 2008] for observation and was allowed to return home this afternoon.

"A veterinary worker has returned home from hospital with diagnosed Hendra virus infection and the worker remains well," he said. "We continue to work with the staff and other people who have been involved with this at the Redlands Veterinary clinic to monitor their health and to assist them with any questions they have."

Queensland health minister Stephen Robertson says the department will closely monitor the case in Brisbane, and the discovery of the virus in a north Queensland horse. "We would be relying on the expert advice of DPI & F [Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Queensland] as to what this represents in terms of incidences amongst horses, our primary concern of course is in relation to the potential for horse to human contact and that's where we pay most of our attention," he said.

(end report)

Background and commentary from ISID:

No clinical details of the patient are provided in this report. The release of the patient from hospital suggests that his condition is not a cause for concern. More precise information would be appreciated.

Previously in Queensland in 1994, a fatal infection in horses and humans was attributed to a previously unknown paramyxovirus, now named Hendra virus after the district of Brisbane where the outbreak occurred. Hendra virus, together with Nipah virus, now constitutes the _Henipavirus_ genus of the family _Paramyxoviridae_. A 2nd case of Hendra virus infection in horses in Queensland was described in 2007.

The natural reservoir of these viruses is the fruit bat (genus _Pteropus_), which is abundant in regions extending from the western Pacific to the eastern coast of Africa. Serological studies have established that as many as half the fruit bats in colonies throughout these regions may have antibodies against this virus genus. Outbreaks of Hendra virus disease in horses and humans, however, have been limited to the Brisbane area of Queensland.

Hendra virus was first isolated from specimens collected during the outbreak of respiratory and neurological disease in horses and humans in Hendra in 1994. In that outbreak the 1st human cases of Hendra virus disease were recognized. Of the three individuals known to be infected, two had a respiratory illness with severe flu-like signs and symptoms. One of the three Hendra virus infections was marked by a delayed onset of progressive encephalitis. Two of the three human patients infected with Hendra virus died.

(end commentary from ISID)

Blogger's note: I have uncharacteristically pasted the exact reports from ISID here so that I would not misinterpret any of the information. This is a very serious situation, since Hendra is one of the few diseases that is transmitted from horses to humans. It is not stated if humans can in turn infect horses. Hendra is a suburb of Brisbane, in northeastern Australia, just below the famous Great Barrier Reef.