The deadly bat-borne virus has killed 14 horses in little more than a month in Queensland and New South Wales, in the worst string of cases since the disease was first identified in 1994.
The virus is able to make the jump into humans once it infects horses. Of the seven known cases in humans since 1994, four have proved fatal. The last two fatalities were equine veterinarians.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell today announced an extra $A6 million would be spent over the next three years to accelerate Hendra virus research.
Bligh announced the funding after meeting with internationally renowned Hendra scientists and key members of the Hendra Virus Taskforce in Brisbane today.
"The increase in Hendra incidents this year and yesterday's announcement of a positive case in a dog has raised new questions and challenges for our scientists," Bligh said.
The extra spending would ramp up vital research and help improve understanding of how to respond to the Hendra virus, she said.
The taskforce has identified three main research questions which need answering:
"The Queensland Government has already committed $A1.5 million over three years to the Queensland Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases for Hendra research and $A300,000 to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory to develop a horse vaccine."
She said the fresh funding quadruples research dollars to a pool of $A7.8 million from Queensland and New South Wales.
"This year we have seen an increase in the number of confirmed cases of Hendra virus infection and our analysis of local flying fox populations show a rise in the number of flying foxes carrying the virus," she said.
"This additional funding will allow us to increase our understanding of why this may be happening and also how the disease is transmitted."
The new research will include:
"If we can better understand what is occurring, we can put in place strategies to prevent disease in horses and, in turn, reduce the risk to people," she said.
"We already know that flying foxes are attracted to particular types of trees and that the virus is likely to be transmitted through flying fox excretions.
"Consequently, we have provided advice to horse owners on how to feed and house their animals, as well as how to design their properties and what to plant to minimise the potential contact between flying foxes and horses."