Hendra virus - Fact Sheet

What is Hendra virus?

Hendra virus is a rare disease that has the ability to cause severe illness and even death in horses.

Is Hendra virus a risk to human health?

Hendra virus is transmitted to humans through close contact with infected horses or their bodily fluids. To date, no human-to-human transmission of the virus has been documented.

In humans, infections of Hendra virus range from mild influenza-like illness to fatal respiratory or neurological disease. Generally, infected people initially develop fever, headaches, muscle pain, sore throat and a dry cough.

What are the clinical signs of Hendra virus?

The incubation period of disease in horses ranges from 5-16 days. Clinical signs include:

  • fever;
  • anorexia;
  • lethargy;
  • increase in breathing and heart rates;
  • pneumonia; and
  • frothy, clear-to blood-tinged nasal discharge.

Nervous signs may also occur. The disease is often fatal.

Where is Hendra virus found?

It was first discovered in 1994 in horses and humans in Brisbane, Australia. Natural outbreaks of the disease have been infrequent and reported only in Australia.

The virus has never been found in Canada.

How is Hendra virus transmitted and spread?

The Flying Fox Bat is considered to be the natural reservoir of the virus. This means that the virus is carried by the bats but has little effect on them.

Horses are the only species of domestic animal that have been known to be naturally infected with Hendra virus. Infection of horses appears to require close contact with infected horses, bats or their bodily fluids.

How is Hendra virus diagnosed?

Hendra virus infection should be suspected in horses that have a short course of fever, severe respiratory distress and then die. Laboratory and blood tests are necessary for a definitive diagnosis.

How is Hendra virus treated?

There is no treatment for this disease.

What is done to protect Canadian horses from Hendra virus?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) imposes strict regulations on the import of animals and animal products from countries where Hendra virus is known to occur. These regulations are enforced through port-of-entry inspections done either by the Canada Border Services Agency or the CFIA.

In Canada, Hendra virus is an immediately notifiable disease under the Health of Animals Regulations. Only laboratories are required to contact the CFIA regarding the suspicion or diagnosis of one of these diseases.

How would the CFIA respond to an outbreak of Hendra virus in Canada?

Canada's emergency response strategy in the event of an outbreak of Hendra virus would be to:

  • eradicate the disease; and
  • re-establish Canada's disease-free status as quickly as possible.

In an effort to eradicate Hendra virus, the CFIA may employ some or all of the following disease control methods:

  • the humane destruction of all infected and exposed animals;
  • surveillance and tracing of potentially infected or exposed animals;
  • strict quarantine and animal movement controls to prevent spread;
  • strict decontamination of infected premises; and
  • zoning to define infected and disease-free areas.

Owners whose animals are ordered destroyed may be eligible for compensation.

Additional information

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