In a rather impressive effort – considering the issues inherent with working with a virus like Hendra virus, the nature of the disease and the low economic value of a vaccine that would only be used in a very restricted geographic area – a Hendra virus vaccine has been released for horses. Equivac HeV should provide a degree of relief to people in Queensland and neighbouring areas who have been battling this uncommon but devastating bat-borne viral infection.
As a virus that comes from wildlife, Hendra virus is tough to contain. Eradicating the virus in the bat population isn’t really feasible, and while measures can be taken to reduce exposure, the risk cannot be eliminated in areas where the virus is present. So, finding a way to reduce the risk of a horse developing the disease after exposure is critical, and the logical approach is vaccination.
Vaccination of horses can also play a huge role in protecting people. All human Hendra virus infections (approximately 50% of which are fatal) have come from direct contact with infected horses, so reducing disease in horses should reduce the risk in humans.
As with most vaccines, it’s safe to assume this one isn’t 100% effective. It therefore may be a great tool, but people can’t then ignore all other Hendra avoidance practices. Individuals still need to take precautions when working around horses that might be infected, regardless of their vaccination status. So, while it’s important to avoid complacency, this vaccine should provide a degree of comfort to people who have been living with this virus hanging over their heads (both figuratively and literally, as bats fly around) in recent years.