Hendra Virus: It’s Evolving

Fruit Bats and Hendra

The fruit bat, Hendra virus’ natural host.
Picture: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Will deadly Hendra virus become our next pandemic? With the way the virus is evolving it cannot be ruled out. History shows us that about 70% of pandemics originate in animals.

The Spanish flu that decimated the world at the end of World War I originated in pigs in a Spanish village. In its first go round in 1917 it was relatively mild. But the next bout in 1918-19 killed more people than had died during the entire war. And anyone who has made the most cursory study of WWI knows that it was absolute and utter carnage. On a scale to take the breath away. Unimaginable! And the Spanish Flu was worse!

Like every other horse owner, I don’t need any more expenses this year. Poor seasons, poor markets take a toll on all of us. But now that live Hendra virus has been found in dead fruit bats in Adelaide, I know that it is time– time to take a look at the big picture – time to vaccinate.

The fruit bat, or Flying Fox, Hendra virus’ natural host, ranges all over Australia, except for desert areas. All our horses are in danger, and by deduction, us and our dogs.

Lets take a brief overview: (more info here)

First found in 1994 in the racing stables of Vic Rail, where it killed him and 14 of his horses. Since then there have been several outbreaks:

In 1995 the virus took the life of a Mackay farmer and in 2008 and 2009 two Qld vets.

Between 1994 and 2010 there were 14 clusters of Hendra virus.

In 2011 in Qld and NSW there were 18 outbreaks with 24 cases in horses and 1 dog. 2011 also chalked up another sinister first. The first case of Hendra in Chinchilla blowing the myth that Hendra virus would not come west of the divide and that our inland horses are safe. No horse is safe!

Now in 2013, the horrifying thing is not only that there have so far been 9 outbreaks in horses ranging from the North coast and tableland of Qld to Kempsey and Macksville in NSW, including another dreadful first, NSW’s first dog, but the virus has changed its clinical signs. Where once the signs were:

  • High temperature

  • Neurological

  • Respiratory

    The latest signs have included:

  • No rise in temperature

  • Founder or shifting lameness of the feet

  • Colic

    This means that none of us will know if our horses have contracted this deadly virus until it is too late. Over 50% of humans catching the virus have died.

    I cannot believe that any of us would put a value of less than $100 (the price of the vaccine at our local vet clinic) on our children, ourselves, our vets, horses and dogs.

    Please, take this warning from history and vaccinate your horses. The potential of this virus is too horrifying to contemplate.

The Enigma of Crows

Anne Rouen's puppy, Tiffy.

Tiffy. Saved by Crows? Who’d have thought it.
Image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I hate crows, loathe them with a Passion, having all my life had to deal with the consequences of their handiwork or perhaps I should say beakwork. It inflames me when they sit around in trees at their annual crow conclave, swapping yarns and boasting of their devilish exploits. I used to think there were two sorts of crows: wicked ones with creepy white eyes and more benign, smaller red-eyed ones, rather sweet, really. But no, the red-eyed ones are the young. They haven’t yet learned all the fiendish tools of their trade.

Could there be a more devious or evil bird than a crow? I don’t think so.

In fact, you could tell me any story you like about the diabolical cunning of crows and I would believe it. There is only one delicacy a crow cannot resist a living, breathing sheep’s eye and it will do anything to get one.

I have seen four of them in line along the back of a sheep, claws hooked into the wool, all flapping madly while leaning to the same side to bring it down; and an enterprising pair on the head of another, pecking at its eyes as it ran blindly, blood running down its face fortunately into the door of my stopped car.

But that’s crows for you: Team work.

Crows: It is here that I have to remind myself that they are just birds. Not evil, not supernatural: just birds! But I digress: That speck in the paddock was not my dog who had gone missing yet again, but, you guessed it, a large, black bird.

Contemplating the crow pecking in the table drain and its mate perched on the fence beside it, I was surprised and relieved to see my dog come round the bend in the road, towards me. Generally, seeing me sets her going faster — the other way. “You’re coming too? Great, let’s go!”

My relief turned to horror as I saw why. Planing in on top of her at about two feet, and closing rapidly, was a huge, wedge-tailed eagle, wingspan as wide as the vehicle track, completely dwarfing this little bobbing mouse.

I was flabbergasted. They never come down out of the hills. I started running towards it, arms waving, yelling like one demented. But the great eagle ignored me. Intent on its prey, it lowered, stretching its talons for the death-grip.

My poor little dog. She looked so tiny there, overshadowed by that enormous wingspan, bobbing along like a fuzzy little metronome; the crow still pecking, oblivious, on the ground beside her. I was too far away to save her from a horrible death; and that damned Rhett Butler of a crow just didn’t seem to notice.

In a matter of seconds it was all over. The eagle dropped onto her, its wings shrouding her from my sight.

But even in the instant that I despaired for her life, at the exact millisecond the eagle struck;  with all the precision of a jet fighter unit, the crows went into action. The one on the ground leapt for the eagle’s right eye, its mate on the fence honed in on the
left; and another I had not seen dropped out of the sky to attack from the rear. Perfect timing.

But that’s crows for you: Finesse.

The eagle flinched, drew back, began to wheel away; and miraculously, out from under the battle zone, still bobbing with the same unchanging rhythm she’d maintained all along, came my dog. I scooped up her trembling form and, still in shock, watched the crows bombing the fearsome intruder, harrying it back to its proper dominions.

But that’s crows for you. As my Nana would have said: ‘More Front than the Queen Mary.’

Perhaps you may have guessed that I have spent a lot of time thinking about crows, but never would I have believed that I would one day be grateful to them.

But that’s life for you. Just full of little ironies …