Hendra virus, formelly known as equine morbillivirus, was first identified in 1994, in Hendra, a suburb of Brisbane, Australia. It causes sporadic but typically fatal infection in horses and humans and remains a threat to the veterinary profession and public health in Australia. Species of fruit bats (genus Pteropus), commonly known as flying foxes, are the natural host of the virus. The virus is highly pathogenic and effective treatment is lacking in both horses and humans. Although a vaccine for horses is available, exposure risk remains.
Bats are well-recognized reservoirs of zoonotic viruses. Agents that spill over from bats to humans—such as filoviruses (Ebola and Marburg virus), henipaviruses (Hendra and Nipah virus) and coronaviruses (including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus [SARS-CoV] [1–3]) cause severe disease in recipient hosts.1 While the virus infection in the bat host appears to produce no signs, however, in humans and horses it causes disseminated endothelial cell infection, vasculitis, encephalitis, and pneumonia.Hanoverian
Horse-to-horse transmission is usually limited to horses in close contact within paddocks or stables, and there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission. However, the recent discovery of Hendra virus exposure in two dogs on infected horse properties suggests that horses can be intermediate hosts for infection of species other than humans.
General recommendation have been made to horse owners to reduce the risk of contact of their animals with potential sources of infection, such as flying fox secretions, urine, feces, or aborted fetuses. These include providing feeding and watering locations that are under cover, avoiding feedstuffs (such as fruit) that may be attractive to flying foxes, and relocating foxes from flowering trees at times of flying fox abundance.
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