Hendra Virus Fact Sheet

What is Hendra virus?

Hendra virus is a rare disease that can cause severe illness and often death in horses.

Is Hendra virus a risk to human health?

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

Generally, infected people initially develop fever, headaches, muscle pain, sore throat and a dry cough. Hendra virus infection has been known to cause death. There is no human vaccine available.

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;
  • frothy, clear to blood-tinged nasal discharge

Neurological signs may also occur.

Where is Hendra virus found?

Hendra virus 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 the natural reservoir of the virus. This means that infected bats seem healthy, but they can carry and spread the virus. Horses are the only species of domestic animal that are known to be naturally infected with Hendra virus. A horse needs to be in close contact with infected horses, bats or their bodily fluids to contract the virus.

How is Hendra virus diagnosed?

Hendra virus infection should be suspected in horses that have a short course of fever, difficulty breathing and then die.

Laboratory tests are necessary for a definitive diagnosis.

How is Hendra virus treated?

While a vaccine is now available for horses, there is no treatment for the disease.

What is done to protect Canadian horses from Hendra virus?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) places 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 conducted 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. Laboratories are required to contact the CFIA regarding the suspicion or confirmation of this disease.

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:

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

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

  • humane euthanasia 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 cleaning and disinfection of infected premises; and
  • zoning to define infected and disease-free areas.

Owners whose animals are ordered to be euthanized may be eligible for compensation.

Additional information

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