[ASC-media] Media release: Cutting risks of Hendra infection

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Sun Jan 17 19:21:41 CET 2010

:: Australian Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease
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Cutting risks of Hendra infection


Few of us have experience of being infected with Hendra virus. Given that 4 of the 7 people who have caught Hendra virus have died we’d probably like to keep it that way.

That shouldn’t be too hard.

“We know that around 50% of flying foxes have had Hendra virus at some time, yet it does not appear to cause them any problems. All indications are that, on rare occasions, Hendra virus spills over from bats to horses and then from horses to humans – there are no known cases of people contracting Hendra virus from flying-foxes” says Dr Stephen Prowse, CEO with the Australian Biosecurity CRC.

Scientists are starting to think that the recent appearance of Hendra virus is a symptom of bats showing stress as a result of changes we’ve made to the environment. Despite recent annual outbreaks, Hendra infection is rare in horses and people. Hendra virus does not appear to be highly infectious and does not spread easily; however when it does the consequences can be devastating.

Given the role of bats and horses in our current understanding of the disease, clearly the people who need to take the most precautions are wildlife carers, horse owners and vets. Horse owners need to try to minimise the likelihood of contact between fruit bats and horses. And horse owners and veterinarians need to improve their biosecurity and infection control practices.

Prof Rick Speare, Director of the Anton Breinl Centre for Public Health and Tropical Medicine at James Cook University, has recommended improvements in infection control amongst veterinarians and animal handlers.

“It is important that equine vets take the lead in implementing infection control in their day to day activities” says Prof Speare. “Although Hendra virus infection is rare, the effects if someone gets infected are catastrophic. We have to make equine practice safe so spillovers don’t occur again.”

Prof Speare is now working with the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), Biosecurity Queensland, Equine Veterinarians Australia and Queensland Workplace Health and Safety to assist veterinarians develop feasible infection control strategies.

The AVA is currently developing improved biosecurity guidelines and departments of Agriculture / Primary Industries are holding workshops on personal and farm biosecurity.

More research is required to get a better understanding of how the virus persists in bats and spreads to horses, and for the development of vaccines, treatments and rapid tests so that in the medium term a multifaceted approach to biosecurity will be possible.

The public should not be unduly concerned about fruit bats, but treat them as they would any other wild animal and enjoy having them in our urban environment.

We need to better learn to live with bats. In this way we can better manage and reduce the risks of Hendra virus outbreaks and allow bats, horses and people to safely share our environment.

Australia, being an island with strong quarantine services, has always had a very good animal health status. In recent years new infectious diseases have emerged in many countries. Most are zoonoses, i.e. spread from animals to humans. Australia has not been spared; Hendra virus and Australian bat lyssavirus have emerged, while longer known diseases like equine influenza have also entered the country. This means that veterinarians and animal handlers must be more cautious in their handling of animals.


For more information about Hendra virus research visit www.abcrc.org.au/

If you find a sick or injured bat don’t try to pick it up, but call the RSPCA or (QLD only) the bat rescue helpline on 0488 228 134.

Hendra virus is a notifiable disease. If you suspect Hendra virus in horses, report it to:
Biosecurity Queensland	13 25 23 or
Emergency Disease Watch Hotline	1800 675 888

Guidelines for veterinarians handling potential Hendra virus infection in horses are available at www.dpi.qld.gov.au/cps/rde/dpi/hs.xsl/4790_13371_ENA_HTML.htm

For interview:

Prof Rick Speare
Anton Breinl Centre for Public Health and Tropical Medicine
James Cook University
Phone:	(07) 4781 5959
Email:	richard.speare at jcu.edu.au

Dr Mark Lawrie
President, Australian Veterinary Association
For assistance with arranging interviews:
Jacob O’Shaughnessy, Media Relations Manager
Phone:	(02) 9431 5062
Mobile:	0439 628 898
Email:	media at ava.com.au

Dr Stephen Prowse
CEO, Australian Biosecurity CRC
Phone:	+61-(0)7 3346 8861
Mobile:	+61-(0)419 371 134
Email:	stephen.prowse at abcrc.org.au
For assistance with arranging interviews:
Corinna Lange, Communication Manager
Mobile:	+61-(0)423 782 198
Email:	corinna.lange at abcrc.org.au

The Australian Biosecurity CRC is one of 30 CRCs announced in 2002 by the Federal Government. The total resources of the Centre will be more than $60 million over 7 years. The Centre has major research nodes in Brisbane, Geelong and Perth, and partners in Bangkok (Thailand), New York (USA) and Winnipeg (Canada). For more information about the AB-CRC visit www.abcrc.org.au

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