Hendra virus, a virus that can kill horses and people, has resurfaced in Queensland, Australia. This bat-borne disease has caused periodic fatalities in horses and people that work with horses. The latest outbreak is thought to have killed up to three horses and resulted in the potential exposure of at least 30 people. The likelihood of these people getting sick depends on how close their contact was with the sick horses. Close contact with secretions from infected horses seems to be required to transmit disease. One person reported being snorted on by an infected, dying horse and being "covered" in blood, which is certainly concerning. An outbreak last year killed a veterinarian and hospitalized a veterinary nurse.
The farm in question is under quarantine and people that have been exposed are being monitored. There is no treatment for potentially exposed individuals, so they are in the unenviable position of having to wait and see if they get sick.
A virus like this is very hard to control. It’s lives in fruit bats and only occasionally crosses into horses. The sporadic nature of disease makes it hard to control and predict when cases will occur. The key is early identification so that there is minimal exposure to other horses and people. People also need to take routine infection control precautions. One veterinarian handled an infected horse without using gloves or a face mask, as recommended, because he had left them in the car. Exposure to a potentially fatal infectious disease is not worth the few minutes of time saved by not following recommended precautions.
This Worms & Germs blog entry was originally posted on equIDblog on 10-Aug-09.