Planning and preparing for a Hendra virus investigation

Warning: Safety of people is the primary consideration when investigating potential Hendra virus (HeV) cases in animals. If you are concerned about your health, you should:

  • seek medical advice and contact your local GP
  • contact your nearest Queensland Health Public Health Unit
  • contact the Queensland Health 24-hour hotline on 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

Apply the precautionary principle. An infected horse can excrete HeV in nasal or nasopharyngeal secretions for several days before the onset of clinical signs. A horse with severe clinical signs poses the greatest transmission risk to other horses and humans through a range of body fluids and excretions.

Veterinary practices should develop and implement infection control and biosecurity procedures to manage the risks associated with investigating and sampling potential HeV cases.

Procedure outline for HeV case investigations

Normal practice management should include thorough preparation before a veterinarian conducts a field investigation of potential HeV. Plans, procedures, appropriate equipment and training are all required to assist the safe, timely handling of investigations.

You can use a laminated procedure or plan for HeV case investigation as a checklist to ensure you address all key elements. This should include a decontamination procedure before leaving the property.

Always take appropriate precautions based on any suspicion of HeV, even with vaccinated horses; don't wait for confirmation.

Steps to consider before investigating a horse with potential HeV infection

You can take the following steps before investigating a horse with potential HeV infection. You should also source extra information to suit your particular situation:

  1. Obtain as much history as possible from the client's initial phone call or enquiry and make an initial case assessment. To do this, you need to:
    • ask if the horse is vaccinated against HeV, or check the HeV Vaccination Registry.
    • be familiar with the various HeV clinical presentations.
  2. If you suspect HeV before you enter a property, know the precautions and procedures to follow. These include:

    If you don't suspect HeV before the examination of a horse, know the immediate steps to take to minimise the risk and exposure to you and others. Learn more about unplanned contact with an ill horse that may be infected with HeV.

  3. Develop a sampling protocol.
    • Prepare a HeV sample collection procedure that includes:
      • samples required and the safest methods of collecting them
      • necessary equipment.
    • Prepare a HeV sample dispatch procedure which explains:
      • how to safely pack samples, or which couriers will provide this service
      • where to send samples (send HeV samples to the Biosecurity Sciences Laboratory, not a private laboratory)
      • which couriers will transport samples and which couriers provide an out-of-hours service.
  4. Develop a dedicated field kit to manage possible HeV cases. Include items such as:
    • PPE
    • cleaning agents and disinfectants
    • sampling equipment
    • waste disposal bags
    • a sharps container.
  5. Prepare biosecurity advice to give to clients. This information will explain what owners and managers involved with managing the case and the site should do.
  6. Prepare advice about disposal of carcasses. This may include:
    • the disposal method of choice for the area (deep burial on site if possible)
    • advice for owners/contractors for safe disposal and to prevent disease spread.
  7. Prepare a list of contacts you'll be required to liaise with, and record the contact details.


Training is an important part of the HeV investigation plan, ensuring that all relevant people are competent to manage a HeV investigation. We recommend that you keep records of all training conducted.

If PPE is not routinely used, training will be required. A number of PPE suppliers provide training in correct fitting and use of PPE. The Australian Veterinary Association has produced an online video, Suit up! Personal protective equipment for veterinarians about PPE, including how to safely put on and take off full PPE.

The packaging of samples for laboratory testing may also require training (available from private providers) to ensure diagnostic samples comply with transport requirements. Alternatively, you can decide to use a courier company (recording this in the procedure) that will provide a packing and transport service.