New variant of Hendra virus confirmed in New South Wales horse

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A coloured transmission electron micrograph of the Hendra, virus. Photo: The Electron Microscopy Unit of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, part of the CSIRO science agency CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
A coloured transmission electron micrograph of the Hendra, virus. Photo: The Electron Microscopy Unit of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, part of the CSIRO science agency CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A new variant of the dangerous Hendra virus has been confirmed in a horse during routine surveillance in New South Wales, Australia.

Researchers recently discovered the new variant in historical samples, and a new test is now available nationally to identify it.

Researchers with the science agency CSIRO and the University of Sydney investigated laboratory samples from horses previously suspected of having Hendra virus but had all tested negative.

“They found evidence of a novel virus, later confirmed as a new variant and have now developed a diagnostic tool specific to detect it,” said David Littleproud, the Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia.

“The research and now this detection highlights that the geographic distribution of Hendra virus-carrying bats is likely much greater than once thought.”

Science and Technology Minister Melissa Price said the new test would significantly reduce infection risks for veterinarians and frontline equine workers.

“Horses that may have tested negative under previous tests can now be confirmed as positive Hendra cases, which allows the risk to be managed through use of personal protection equipment and appropriate biosecurity practices.”

She said horse owners will need to continue prudent risk management to minimise the potential for contact between flying-foxes, which carry the virus, and horses, she said.

She also urged owners to vaccinate their horses against Hendra virus.

The horse that was confirmed to have the new variant was from West Wallsend, near Newcastle. It represents the first (non-historical) detection of the variant in a horse in the state, and is the southern-most Hendra detection to date.

Since 1994, seven Australians have contracted the Hendra virus. Four have died, including racehorse trainer Vic Rail and two veterinarians.

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