Fact sheet N°329
•Hendra virus can cause fatal respiratory and neurological diseases.
•Hendra virus can be transmitted to people from horses.
•Hendra virus can cause severe disease and death in horses.
•There is no treatment or vaccine available for either people or horses.
•Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are the natural hosts of Hendra virus.
Hendra virus (HeV) is a rare, emerging zoonotic virus (a virus transmitted to humans from animals), that can cause respiratory and neurological
disease and death in people. It can also cause severe disease and death in horses, resulting in considerable economic losses for horse breeders.
Initially named Equine Morbilivirus, Hendra virus is a member of the genus Henipavirus, a new class of virus in the Paramyxoviridae family. It is
closely related to Nipah virus.
Although Hendra virus has caused only a few outbreaks, its potential for further spread and ability to cause disease and death in people have made it
a public health concern. The concern has heightened in the most recent outbreaks, as the horses’ symptoms have shifted to become largely
neurological instead of respiratory. This suggests the possibility of genetic diversity in the strain, and potentially a more infective virus.
- Hendra virus (HeV) infection
- Table: Chronology of Hendra virus outbreaks [gif 11kb]
- Nipah virus
Hendra virus was first recognized in 1994 during an outbreak of acute respiratory disease among 21 horses in Australia. Two people were infected, and
one died. Since then, there have been another ten outbreaks, all in Australia, and three involving human cases.
Hendra virus is transmitted to people through close contact with infected horses or their body fluids.
To date, no human-to-human transmission of Hendra virus has been documented.
Signs and symptoms
Human infections with Hendra virus range from mild influenza-like illness to fatal respiratory or neurological disease. Infected people initially
develop fever, headaches, myalgia (muscle pain), sore throat and a dry cough. They could also have enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy and vertigo.
The incubation period (interval from infection to onset of symptoms) ranges from five to 14 days. To date, there have been six confirmed human cases
including three deaths.
One of the people who died developed pneumonitis, respiratory failure, renal failure, and arterial thrombosis. The patient died of cardiac arrest.
Another person demonstrated an unusual, progressive fatal neurological illness. He initially had a mild type of inflammation of the brain
(meningoencephalitis) with a sore throat, headache, drowsiness, vomiting and neck stiffness. After treatment with antibiotics, he made a full
recovery, but 13 months later he developed signs of encephalitis that progressed to coma and death.
The three infected people who made a full recovery have had no residual problems or relapse.
Hendra virus infection can be diagnosed by a number of different laboratory tests:
•enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA);
•polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay;
•immunofluorescence assay; and
•virus isolation by cell culture.
There are currently no drugs or vaccines available to treat Hendra virus infection. Intensive supportive care with treatment of symptoms is the main
approach to managing the infection in people.
Natural host of Hendra virus
Fruit bats of the family Pteropodidae – particularly the species belonging to the Pteropus category – are the natural hosts for Hendra virus.
There is no apparent disease in fruit bats.
It is assumed that the geographic distribution of Henipaviruses overlap with that of Pteropus genus. This hypothesis was reinforced with the evidence
of Henipavirus infection in Pteropus bats from Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea,
Thailand and Timor-Leste.
Recently, African fruit bats of the genus Eidolon, family Pteropodidae, were found positive for antibodies against Nipah and Hendra viruses indicating
that these viruses might be present within the geographic distribution of Pteropodidae bats in Africa.
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