HRA Industry Notice - Hendra Virus Update - First Reported Case of a Dog Testing Positive to Hendra

28 July 2011

As at 27 July 2011, the first reported case of a dog testing positive for the Hendra virus outside of laboratory conditions was announced. It is recommended that people keep companion animals, such as dogs and cats, away from sick horses to reduce the risk of an infection.

Flying foxes are the natural hosts for Hendra virus. The virus can spread from flying foxes to horses and sometimes form horse-to-horse, but only through very close contact. In contrast to the situation with a highly infectious disease like equine influenza, there is no need to restrict horse movements unless they are on properties directly involved with an incident.

Very rarely, the virus can spread from sick horses to people and in one case to a dog.

There is no evidence of human-to-human, human-to-horse or bat-to-human spread of Hendra virus. It is however; a notifiable disease and all suspected cases must be reported.
Control of the disease in animals
There are well-established guidelines issued by State Governments to minimise the risk of horses contacting Hendra virus. These include limiting contact (direct or indirect) between fruit bats (and their droppings) and horses. Do not place feed and water troughs under trees where fruit bats might feed or roost. If feed and water troughs must be placed in the shade of fruiting trees, consider building a cover over them to prevent contamination from above. If possible, remove horses from paddocks when trees on which bats may feed are flowering. If this is not possible, fence or tape off the area under flowering trees. Alternatively, stable horses at high risk times when fruit bats are feeding or roosting in or around their paddocks.

If Hendra virus is confirmed in a horse, the relevant State Government manages the incident. Urgent measures are taken to minimise the risk to people and other horses. These include quarantine, disinfection and surveillance.

It is recommended that people keep companion animals, such as dogs and cats, away from sick or infected horses to reduce the risk of infection.
Companion animal testing
All dogs and cats that could have had contact with infected horses are tested on infected properties in both QLD and NSW at the same intervals as the remaining horses on these properties. Their health is also monitored. 

Under national policy, domesticated animals that have evidence of infection with Hendra virus, even if they are not ill, are euthanised because of the potential risk they pose to people.

Dogs and cats that could not have had a risk contact (for example, ones that are kept indoors) are not tested. This has been the case for some years with all outbreaks, consistent with the national response policy.

Vaccine development
The Commonwealth's vaccine regulators are aware of the Hendra virus vaccine for horses being trialled at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory using funding from the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments. The regulators have yet to receive an application to assess and authorise the supply and use of such a vaccine in horses in Australia. Should a vaccine be developed to the point where it can be supplied for use, application can be made for a permit or product registration and the assessments can be urgently progressed.
How people get the virus
Humans have become infected from handling sick horses. Great care must be taken regarding personal protective measures. Do not make contact with blood, and other body fluids (especially respiratory and nasal secretions, saliva, and urine) and tissues. There is no evidence of human-to-human, human-to-horse or bat-to-human spread of Hendra virus.
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