July 28, 2008

Queenland health and agriculture officials are continuing their inquiries into an outbreak of the Hendra virus.

There have been four confirmed cases of Hendra involving horses at a veterinary hospital on Brisbane's outskirts, and two staff have subequently caught the virus.

The disease is carried by native fruit bats and can be transferred to horses. The disease is able to jump from horses to people.

Brisbane Southside Population Health Unit medical officer Dr Brad McCall moved to allay fears the dangerous virus may be able to jump from person to person.

"It is important to understand that the Hendra virus is rare in horses and in humans," he said.

Dr McCall said there is no evidence of new strains of the Hendra virus eventually leading to human to human transmission.

"Our extensive investigations into the virus over the years have found no evidence of this occurring.

"We expect a virus will change its structure a little over time but it's still the Hendra virus," he said.

"Whilst the natural host for Hendra virus in Australia is the flying fox, there is also no evidence of bat to human transmission, only bat to horse transmission. There is no risk to the wider community."

The monitoring of people and horses potentially exposed to the virus continues. The clinic at the centre of the outbreak remains under quarantine.

"We have tested up to 50 people who work at the veterinary facility or who may have had close contact with the sick horses.

"We’re continuing to monitor their health and provide information and advice as required."

All those with contact with the horses undertook a second round of blood testing last week.

The two staff who tested positive to Hendra remain under close medical observation in a Brisbane hospital.

"Both cases most likely acquired the infection through close contact with the horses in the late stage of the horses' illness or at autopsy," Dr McCall said.

"To date all other people who had been in close contact with the sick horses remain well."