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.