What is Hendra virus?

Hendra virus is a zoonotic disease, which means it can transfer from animals to people. Hendra virus can cause disease in animals and, rarely, in humans.

First discovered in 1994 at a racing stable in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra, it has caused the death of more than 80 horses across Queensland and New South Wales. It also claimed the lives of 4 out of the 7 humans infected between 1994 and 2014.

Flying foxes are a natural reservoir for Hendra virus, although they do not show any signs of illness when infected.

It is believed the virus can be transmitted from:

  • flying fox to horse
  • horse to horse
  • horse to dog
  • horse to human.

There is currently no evidence that the virus can be transmitted from:

  • flying fox to human
  • human to horse
  • human to human.

Although Hendra virus infection is periodically present in flying fox populations across Australia, the likelihood of horses becoming infected remains very low.

Hendra virus can cause a range of clinical signs in horses and should be considered where there is an acute onset of clinical signs and rapid progression to death associated with respiratory and/or neurological signs.

The mortality rate in affected horses is approximately 80%.

Note: Hendra virus is not related to equine influenza or Australian bat lyssavirus.

The potential seriousness of Hendra virus infection for humans and horses requires work health and safety measures to be implemented where there is occupational contact with horses. To prevent infection, sound hygiene and biosecurity measures should be adopted as routine practice for all horse contact.

Research on Hendra virus is ongoing and continues to help us learn more about the disease, including how it is transmitted between species. Comprehensive information on Hendra virus research can be found in the Compendium of findings from the National Hendra Virus Research Program (PDF, 3.3MB).

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