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New Hendra virus variant discovered

The Australian veterinarian-led research project, Horses as sentinels, has identified a new variant of the deadly Hendra virus.

The project identified the new variant from a 2015 case where a horse was euthanised as a result of severe illness but was negative to Hendra virus by routine testing.

It is a timely reminder for horse owners and people who work closely with horses of the continued importance of having measures in place to reduce the risk of infection with Hendra virus. The current Hendra virus vaccine for horses is likely to provide immunity against the new variant, with vaccination of horses the most effective way to help manage the disease.

Hendra virus infection in horses occurs sporadically following spill over from flying foxes. On rare occasions infection can transfer from horses to humans. The few cases of Hendra virus infection in people have resulted from very close contact with respiratory secretions (mucus) or blood from an infected horse.

Hendra virus is lethal for horses and humans, with mortality rates of 79 per cent and 60 per cent respectively. The originally recognised strain of Hendra virus has resulted in the deaths of four people and more than 100 horses since 1994. All samples submitted for Hendra virus testing are now also tested for the newly discovered Hendra virus variant.

Hendra virus should be considered as a possible cause of illness in unvaccinated horses anywhere in Australia where flying foxes are present. Horse vaccination reduces the risk of Hendra virus transmission to humans and other susceptible animals.

It is important that people who have close contact with horses maintain good hygiene and biosecurity measures for all contact with horses, regardless of the horse’s health or vaccination status. Where Hendra virus is suspected in a horse, appropriate infection prevention and control and biosecurity precautions, including personal protective equipment must be used.

Further information

Read more about Hendra virus.