Hendra virus

Hendra virus is a disease that can be fatal to people and horses. It is a notifiable disease and any suspected cases must be reported immediately by phoning the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

About Hendra virus

Hendra virus is carried by flying foxes (fruit bats).

  • Horses can become infected from contact with flying foxes or its bodily fluids: urine, faeces, or saliva
  • Infected horses can pass the disease onto other horses.
  • Cases of human infection have been caused by close contact with an infected horse. Veterinarians and hospital staff are particularly high risk. There are no known cases of humans becoming sick from flying foxes.

Hendra virus in South Australia

There have been no cases of Hendra virus in South Australia.

Hendra virus outbreaks in horses have only occurred in Queensland and Northern New South Wales.

It is unlikely a horse in South Australian would become infected with Hendra virus as the flying foxes present in South Australia are Grey Headed flying foxes. This species of flying fox is not thought to transmit Hendra virus to horses.

Given that the incubation period (time from infection to development of clinical signs) is up to 16 days a horse could be infected interstate then transported into South Australia. 

Signs of Hendra virus

The clinical signs of a horse infected with Hendra virus include:

  • acute onset illness
  • depression
  • not eating
  • discomfort, including weight shifting between legs
  • increased body temperature
  • increased heart rate
  • rapid progression of illness.

Less common signs of Hendra virus:

  • Neurological: including muscle twitching, weakness, and loss of balance.
  • Respiratory: nasal discharge, coughing, and breathing difficulty.

Sick horses should be examined by your private veterinarian. They will carry out Hendra virus exclusion testing in consultation with Biosecurity SA if testing is necessary. Always use appropriate protective equipment, including gloves and masks, while handling sick horses.

Reducing Hendra virus risk

Take the following steps to reduce the Hendra virus risk to your horses when travelling interstate to areas when Hendra virus transmission may occur:

  • Discuss Hendra vaccination with your private veterinarian.
  • Place feed and water under cover if possible.
  • Do not place food and water containers under trees if flying foxes are attracted to them.
  • Avoid feeding your horses sweet foods, fruits, and vegetables if you live in an area with flying foxes.
  • Remove horses from areas that have fruiting or flowering trees.
  • Remove horses from paddocks during dawn and dusk when flying foxes are most active.

Practice good biosecurity by:

  • Washing your hands with soap and water between handling horses.
  • Isolate sick horses from people and other animals until you have a veterinary opinion.
  • Do not allow visiting horse practitioners to work on sick horses.
  • Handle healthy horses before handling any sick horses on your property.
  • Clean and disinfect any gear exposed to bodily fluids from horses. This includes halters, lead ropes, and twitches. Talk to your vet about cleaning agents.
  • Seek veterinary advice before bringing any sick horse back to your property.

Personal safety precautions

Human infections can occur when handling both live and dead Hendra virus infected horses. Avoid contact with any horse that may have Hendra virus and consult a veterinarian.

If you come into contact with an infected horse:

  1. Wash skin thoroughly with soap and water.
  2. Cleanse any cuts or abrasions thoroughly. Use an antiseptic if available.
  3. Seek medical advice from your local doctor or contact Health SA on 1300 232 272.

Page Last Reviewed: 23 Feb 2018
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