Deadly Equine Virus Hendra Spreads to Humans

July 23, 2008 02:10 PM
by Josh Katz
The virus has spread from horses to humans and new symptoms have emerged, leading experts to question whether a human-to-human strain could appear next.

30-Second Summary

At least seven horses have contracted the potentially fatal Hendra virus, and five have died in the biggest outbreak of the virus since it was pinpointed in 1994.

Two veterinary staff members came down with the illness about a month ago and are still in the hospital. Fifty other people who may have been exposed to the infected horses will be tested a second time. More horses will also undergo testing.

Epidemiologist Hume Field of the Australian Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases in Brisbane said, “The different clinical presentations, and some very preliminary [DNA] sequencing data, suggest that the Hendra virus may be somewhat different in this outbreak,” indicating that there may be new strains.

The fruit bat is usually the carrier of the disease, but scientists are still unsure how the virus is transferred to horses and why there are only outbreaks in certain years.

On an Australian ABC radio program, Dr. James Gilkerson commented on the recent outbreak and said, “I think that veterinary research in Australia in general is woefully underfunded.”

The disease is highly lethal in both horses and humans. In humans, it may come with flu-like symptoms, potentially leading to pneumonia. Symptoms may include “headache, high fever, and drowsiness, which can progress to convulsions or coma,” according to New Scientist magazine.

The major fear is that the virus, identified only in Australia thus far, may mutate, allowing it to spread from human to human.

Headline Link: Outbreak of Hendra virus in Australia

Reactions: ‘New Hendra virus cases highlight “woeful” lack of research’

Reference: The Hendra virus

Related Topics: Studying animal diseases


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