Queensland Equine Veterinarian Dies of Hendra Virus

A veterinarian in Australia has died after contracting Hendra virus while treating a sick foal in Cawarral, Queensland, Australia, in July.

Queensland state Health Minister Paul Lucas told the Associated Press Alister Rodgers, BVSc, died overnight in a hospital. He is the fourth known fatality from the illness since it was discovered in 1994. Veterinarian Ben Cunneen, BVSc, died of the virus last year.  

"We are really sad that we have lost another colleague and our sympathies go out to Alister's family and work mates," said Australian Veterinary Association President Mark Lawrie. "It's a problem that's not going to go away. We have to change the way we do things."

Three horses on the Cawarral property died in late July and early August. Two of these horses were confirmed positive for Hendra, a potentially zoonotic virus that has only occurred in Australia. Another horse was euthanized in late August after testing positive.

Four other people exposed to the horses were hospitalized to be kept under observation.

Fruit bats (also called flying foxes) indigenous to Australia appear to be Hendra's natural host. In past outbreaks, humans have become infected by handling infected horses. Hendra virus has a mortality rate of 70-80% in horses, and 50% in infected people.

The Cawarral property is to remain under quarantine until released by Biosecurity Queensland. A team of scientists is studying a flying fox colony in the area to learn more about its makeup and history in an effort to better understand the possible triggers for spillover of the Hendra virus.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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