A veterinarian exposed to a horse infected with Hendra virus has tested positive for the disease and is hospitalized in an induced coma, said the Australian Horse Industry Council.

Three horses on a Cawarral, Queensland, property died in late July and early August. Two of the dead horses were confirmed positive for Hendra, a potentially zoonotic virus that has only occurred in Australia.

Testing continues on an additional 25 horses on the property, as well as 11 that had left the facility. (Read more.) The Cawarral property and a neighboring property will remain under quarantine until Biosecurity Queensland is confident there is no chance of any further infection.

Hendra virus

Hendra virus

Fruit bats (also called flying foxes) indigenous to Australia appear to be Hendra's natural host. Typical equine clinical signs of Hendra include respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated heart rate, and increased body temperature. Some horses display neurologic signs, such as head-pressing or twitching, while others might appear to be colicky. In past cases, human infections have occurred from handling infected horses (ill horses and during necropsies), so great care should be taken in regard to personal protective measures. (See "Guidelines for veterinarians handling potential Hendra virus infection in horses.")  

The council noted that 70-80% of infected horses die of the disease while survivors must be euthanized to prevent human infection. Of infected people, 50% are at a grave risk of dying.

Last year veterinarian Ben Cunneen, BVSc, died after contracting Hendra virus from a horse hospitalized at the Redlands Veterinary Clinic on the outskirts of the city of Brisbane in the state of Queensland. A veterinary nurse and another veterinarian were also hospitalized.

Related to the current cases, the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries said a team of scientists have collected urine samples from a flying fox colony in the area to further research the virus. They will also study the colony to learn more about its makeup and history in an effort to increase knowledge of the possible triggers for spillover of the Hendra virus.

"No matter where you are in Australia it is imperative that you keep your horses away from fruit eating bats," the Australian Horse Industry Council statement noted.

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

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