Adding a new twist to the already very concerning situation in Australia, Hendra virus infection has now also been identified in a dog. It's been a bad year for Hendra virus in Australia, with larger numbers of cases of this highly fatal disease in horses in a geographic range that seems to be expanding. Spread by flying foxes (fruit bats), Hendra virus predominantly infects horses, but can be transmitted to people working with infectedhorses.
The Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong has now announced diagnosis of Hendra virus infection in a dog. The dog is from a quarantined farm in Queensland where the virus has been identified in a horse. The dog was healthy and was tested as part of a standard policy to test dogs and cats on infected farms. It's great to see this approach being used, since it helps identify other potential sources proactively - something that is often overlooked in outbreak investigations that focus only on the main species that are already known to be involved.
In this case, the dog had antibodies against the virus in its blood. That means that it was exposed to the virus and mounted an immune response. It doesn't indicate whether it was exposed recently or in the past. Two tests for the virus itself were negative, suggesting that the dog's immune system eliminated the virus (or that the virus isn't really capable of surviving for long in a dog). This is a good news/bad news scenario.
- Dogs can be infected. It increases the range of known susceptible species.
- If dogs can be infected and shed live virus, then they could be a source of infection for other individuals, including people.
- The dog wasn't sick. This might sound like strange "bad news," but healthy carriers of infectious diseases are harder to spot and control than ones that are sick.
- The dog wasn't shedding the virus. That's critical since if dogs can be infected but not infectious (i.e. if they can carry the virus but not transmit it), then they are of limited concern.
- They have been testing farm dogs and cats as a routine measure, and this was the first positive. Infection of pets therefore must be relatively uncommon even on farms where the virus is active.
- The dog wasn't sick. While it's only one case and doesn't guarantee dogs won't be affected clinically, this might suggest that dogs just occasionally get exposed with no disease. Since it's highly fatal in other species, that's a good thing.
What should be done based on this?
- Probably not much more than should have been done before this finding, but it's a good reminder about the potential involvement of other species.
- Dogs and cats should be kept away from fruit bat roosting sites.
- Dogs and cats should be kept away from infected horses.
- If a farm is quarantined because of Hendra virus, dogs and cats should be tested and quarantined. Quarantining the animal while testing is underway helps reduce the risk of an infectious dog or cat (should that occur) transmiting the virus to people on the farm, or wandering away and exposing other people or animals.
- Animals of any type in areas where Hendra virus is active that get sick with signs that could possibly be consistent with Hendra virus infection should be tested.
This should also be taken as yet another reminder that infectious diseases are unpredictable. Considering the potential involvement of different species in a proactive manner as was done here is critical.
Image: Bay Horse and White Dog by George Stubbs (1724-1806)
This Worms & Germs blog entry was originally posted on equIDblog on 26-Jul-11.