Hendra virus

Hendra virus is category 1 restricted matter.

Under Queensland legislation, if you suspect the presence of this disease in any species of animal, you must report it to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 or contact the Emergency Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Hendra virus is a zoonotic disease that can transfer from animals to people. Hendra virus can cause infection in horses and, rarely, in humans and dogs.

Cause

Hendra virus is in the genus Henipavirus. The only other member in this genus is Nipah virus.

Hendra virus is in the Paramyxovirus family.

Other names

Equine morbillivirus

Life cycle

Hendra virus is a fragile virus which does not survive for very long (hours or days) outside the animal host.

Affected animals

horse; flying fox; human; dog

Hosts

Pteropid bats (flying foxes)

Symptoms

Hendra virus can cause a broad range of signs in horses. Hendra virus should be considered in any sick horse when the cause of illness is unknown and particularly where signs progress quickly with rapid deterioration.

The following signs have all been associated with Hendra virus cases in horses, but not necessarily all signs will be found in any one infected horse:

  • rapid onset of illness
  • fever
  • increased heart rate
  • discomfort or weight shifting between legs
  • depression
  • rapid deterioration with either respiratory and/or nervous signs.

Respiratory signs include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • rapid breathing
  • nasal discharge at death - can be initially clear, progressing to stable white froth or stable blood-stained froth.

Nervous signs include:

  • wobbly gait
  • apparent loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • aimless walking in a dazed state
  • head tilting and circling
  • muscle twitching
  • urinary incontinence
  • inability to rise.

The small number of dogs infected both naturally and in a research setting have not shown any clinical signs.

Flying foxes infected with Hendra virus do not show any signs of illness.

Impacts

Health

Hendra virus infection in horses and humans has a high mortality rate. Approximately 80% of horses and 70% of people infected with Hendra virus die.

Properties with confirmed infected animals are jointly managed by Biosecurity Queensland and the property owner until it can be determined there are no other infected animals. Occasionally, neighbouring properties are also involved.

During a Hendra virus incident, there are no movement restrictions for the general horse population. Movement restrictions are only in place for properties with confirmed positive animals and those in close contact with them.

How it is spread

Transmission can occur from:

  • infected flying foxes to horses - making it important that horse food and water containers are not placed under or near fruiting or flowering trees*
  • infected horses to humans and other animals - sick horses must be isolated.

There is no evidence of Hendra virus spreading from flying fox-to-human or human-to-human.

The exact route of transmission of Hendra virus from flying foxes-to-horses is not known. It is thought that horses become infected via close contact with the virus which may occur by eating or sniffing at material contaminated by infected flying fox body fluids and excretions.

Hendra virus is not a highly contagious disease. Close contact with the virus is required for infection to occur.

Although Hendra virus infection is sometimes present in flying fox populations across Australia, the likelihood of horses or other animals becoming infected is very low.

Risk period

Historically, more cases have been recorded in the cooler months of the year. However, infection in horses has occurred throughout the year and precautions should be taken year round.

Monitoring and action

Immediately contact your veterinarian if you suspect your animal may have Hendra virus. If you cannot reach them, call us. You have a legal obligation to do this if you suspect Hendra virus in your horse.

  • Phone 13 25 23 during business hours.
  • Phone 1800 675 888 or the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline (available 24 hours).

Clearly explain that you are calling to report a suspected case of Hendra virus infection.

Contact your general practitioner, local hospital emergency department or local public health unit if you are concerned that a person has been exposed to a horse infected with Hendra virus.

Control

  • Do not place feed and water containers under or near trees. If possible, place feed and water containers under a shelter.
  • Remove horses from paddocks where flowering or fruiting trees may be attracting flying foxes. Return horses only after the trees have stopped flowering or fruiting and the flying foxes have gone. If horses cannot be removed from the paddock, consider fencing (temporary or permanent) to restrict access to flowering or fruiting trees. Clean up any fruit debris underneath the trees before returning horses.
  • If you cannot remove horses from paddocks where flowering or fruiting trees may be attracting flying foxes, try to temporarily remove them during times of peak flying fox activity (usually at dusk and during the night).
  • Isolate sick horses from other horses, people and animals until the horse is assessed by a veterinarian.
  • If you have more than one horse on your property, handle unaffected horses first. Handle sick horses only after taking appropriate precautions (read more about what personal protective equipment to wear and reducing the risk of people becoming infected).
  • Clean and disinfect all gear (e.g. bits, halters, twitches) exposed to any body fluids from horses before using it on another horse. Talk to your veterinarian about which cleaning agents and disinfectants to use.
  • When cleaning contaminated equipment from a sick horse, wear gloves, cover any cuts or grazes and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Practise good biosecurity and do not travel with, work on or take sick horses to other properties or equestrian events.
  • Do not allow visiting horse practitioners (e.g. farriers, equine dentists) to work on sick horses.
  • Seek veterinary advice before bringing any sick horse onto your property.

Vaccination

A vaccination for horses is available. Vaccination is the single most effective way of reducing the risk of Hendra virus in horses. Vaccination against Hendra virus is strongly encouraged. Discuss this with your veterinarian.

Hendra virus case management

If Hendra virus is confirmed in an animal, the property will be restricted and the disease will be managed under the direction of Biosecurity Queensland, consistent with the national Hendra guidelines.

Quarantine

When Hendra virus is confirmed in an animal, the affected property will be quarantined to stop the potential spread of infection. We will undertake an assessment of the property to determine whether any associated properties also need to be quarantined (e.g. immediate neighbours) and if any animals need to be tested to determine their Hendra virus status.

We notify Queensland Health if Hendra virus is confirmed. Queensland Health will coordinate risk assessments and follow-up with the people involved.

We will also notify the appropriate professional bodies, including the Australian Veterinary Association and Equine Veterinarians Australia. These notifications will not include private details.

Once laboratory testing confirms at-risk animals on the quarantined property are not infected with Hendra virus, movement restrictions will be lifted.

More information

  • Read about Hendra virus on the Queensland Horse Council website.