The natural host for Hendra virus is the flying-fox. The virus can spread from flying foxes to horses and, rarely, from horses to people. Research and testing of many other animals and insects has shown no evidence of Hendra virus occurring naturally in any other species.
Several hundred people who have been exposed to horses with Hendra virus infection in the last 16 years have not become infected. Unfortunately, there have also been seven confirmed Hendra virus infections in humans, all in Queensland. Four of these people died. While the exact route of infection is not known, it is thought that horses may contract Hendra virus infection from eating food recently contaminated by flying fox urine, saliva or birth products. The seven confirmed human cases all became infected following close contact with respiratory secretions and/or blood from an infectious horse.
There is no evidence that the virus can be passed directly from flying foxes to humans, from the environment to humans, from humans to horses, or can float in the air.
Hendra virus in the environment is killed by heat, drying and cleaning with detergents. Some disinfectant products are also effective against the virus.
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Australian Bat Lyssavirus
Australian bat lyssavirus (ABL) is a virus that can be transmitted from bats to humans, causing serious illness. The virus was first identified in 1996 and has been found in four kinds of flying foxes/fruit bats and one species of insect-eating microbat. Since November 1996, two people have died as a result of ABL infection after being bitten by bats. ABL is closely related but not identical to rabies, a serious and invariably fatal disease in humans.
Transmission of the virus from bats to humans is thought to be by a scratch or bite, or by being exposed to bat saliva through the eyes, nose or mouth (mucous membrane exposure).
Experience with other closely related viruses, including classical rabies virus, suggests that contact or exposure to bat faeces, urine or blood do not pose a risk of exposure to ABL, nor do living, playing or walking near bat roosting areas.
Proper cleansing of the wound is the single most effective measure for reducing transmission. If bitten or scratched, immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for at least five minutes. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
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