Department of Health

New Hendra virus genotype discovered

Health advisory

Status:
Active
Advisory number:
211027
Date issued:
26 Oct 2021
Issued by:
Adjunct Clinical Professor Brett Sutton, Chief Health Officer
Issued to:
Victorian health professionals and consumers

Key messages

  • A new genetic type of Hendra virus has been identified in a horse in New South Wales, the most southern detection of Hendra virus in a horse to date. 
  • The new virus was also detected earlier this year in historical flying fox (fruit bat) samples, including in Victorian samples from grey-headed flying foxes collected for other testing, going back to 2013.
  • To date there have been no cases of Hendra virus infection in horses or people in Victoria, and the level of risk remains unchanged. 
  • Hendra virus can infect horses, which can then transmit the infection to humans. While there is no cure, specific treatment or vaccine for Hendra virus in humans, there is a vaccine to protect horses. 
  • Hendra virus can cause a self-limiting influenza-like illness in humans, but in some cases, this can progress to either severe pneumonia or encephalitis, which can be fatal.
  • Clinicians should be alert for symptoms of Hendra virus infection in patients who work closely with horses.
  • The flying fox is the natural host for Hendra virus, but the virus is not known to be transmitted from flying foxes to humans.
  • Horse owners should avoid contact with a sick horse, particularly when Hendra virus infection is suspected. 

What is the issue?

A new genetic type of Hendra virus has been identified in a horse in New South Wales, the most southern detection of Hendra virus in a horse to date. The new virus was also detected earlier this year in historical flying fox (fruit bat) samples, collected in Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia. The Hendra virus had previously been detected only in Queensland and parts of New South Wales. 

The new virus is genetically similar with the original Hendra virus and is expected to pose the same level of risk to horses and humans. To date, there have been no cases of Hendra virus infection in horses or humans in Victoria, and the level of risk remains unchanged.

Infection of Hendra virus in people is rare and all previous human cases have been associated with close contact with infected horses.

Who is at risk?

People who work closely with potentially infected horses (such as horse owners, veterinarians, horse trainers and stable workers) may be at higher risk of Hendra virus infection.

Symptoms and transmission

Hendra virus can be transmitted from flying foxes to horses, and from horses to people. Transmission of Hendra virus from flying foxes to people, or person to person transmission is not known to occur.

In humans, Hendra virus can cause a self-limiting influenza-like illness, but in some cases, this can progress to either severe pneumonia or encephalitis, which can be fatal. Symptoms can develop between five and 21 days after exposure to an infected horse.

Recommendations

The discovery of the new genetic type of Hendra virus in Victoria does not change the usual precautions advised for veterinarians or other people in contact with potentially infected horses. 

Horse owners and other people working with horses should always adopt caution when a horse is unwell. Avoid contact with a sick horse that is showing clinical signs, particularly when Hendra virus infection is suspected. Strict infection control measures should be implemented under veterinary supervision.

For further information on animal health and occupational safety measures for people working with horses see, Hendra virus on the Argicultural website.

Clinicians should be alert for symptoms of Hendra virus infection in patients who work closely with horses including horse owners and equine service providers (veterinarians, farriers, strappers, etc).

More information

Clinical information

Communicable Diseases Network Australia - National Public Health guidelines for the management of Hendra virus

Consumer information

Better Health Channel - Hendra virus

Reviewed 27 October 2021

Health.vic

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