Hendra Virus: Protect Horses to Protect Humans

This virus is bad news. It’s deadly for horses, deadly for humans, and can be passed from sick horse to human caregiver.
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Hendra Virus: Protect Horses to Protect Humans
The flying fox is an important pollinator species, but it carries a potentially deadly disease called the Hendra (HeV) virus. | Photo: iStock
Hendra virus is bad news. It’s deadly for horses, deadly for humans, and can be passed from sick horse to human caregiver. As of now, Hendra has only been identified in Australia, and researchers there are working to find the best ways to prevent its spread.

Flying foxes, a member of the bat family, are a native Australian species. This protected bat is an important pollinator species, but it carries a potentially deadly disease called the Hendra (HeV) virus. To date, no human has directly contracted the virus from contact with a flying fox, but people can (and have) become infected through direct exposure to infected horses’ bodily fluids.

Although the exact route of transmission to horses has not been confirmed, researchers believe it to be from flying fox feces, placental fluids, or other bodily fluids. “It is thought that horses grazing contaminated pasture or feeding from contaminated feed or water bins can contract the virus,” said Sarah-Jane Wilson, BVSc, MVPHMgt, PhD, of the University of Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science, in Camden, New South Wales, Australia.

The majority of horses that contract the disease have died, and the mortality rate in humans is 50%. “Complications of the disease in humans can include infections of the lungs or brain—severe cases have caused pneumonia and encephalitis,” she said

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Written by:

Katie Navarra has worked as a freelance writer since 2001. A lifelong horse lover, she owns and enjoys competing a dun Quarter Horse mare.

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