A seven-year-old unvaccinated Clydesdale from the Newcastle area has been euthanased following confirmation of a variant Hendra virus strain, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) reports.
The new variant (Hendra virus Genotype 2/HeV-g2) and most southern case of Hendra recorded was confirmed in early October by testing at the DPI’s Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute laboratory and at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP).
A vet attended the West Wallsend horse in response to a report it was showing neurological symptoms, collected samples and informed the DPI.
The other horses at the property have not shown signs of poor health.
For six months the DPI has routinely tested all Hendra submissions for the new variant after retrospective detection in a Queensland horse.
An Individual Biosecurity Direction was issued by a District Veterinarian from Hunter Local Land Services to control the movement of animals and people on and off the West Wallsend property for a 21-day period.
A CSIRO paper detailing the new genetic type (‘A new Hendra virus genotype found in Australian flying foxes’) was released just days after the latest infection was discovered.
Previous studies had detected the virus in flying foxes in Queensland and parts of NSW, however after monitoring samples from 2013-2021, ACDP researchers found the new genetic type was present in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.
CSIRO scientist and study co-author, Kim Halpin, said transmission of the disease from flying foxes to horses has still only been reported in Queensland and NSW.
“However, because Hendra virus Genotype 2 is so genetically similar to the original Hendra virus, there is a potential risk to horses wherever flying foxes are found around Australia,” she said in a statement.
“It is important to note that Hendra has never been reported to spread directly from flying foxes to humans – it’s always been transmitted from infected horses to humans…we expect this new genetic type would behave the same way.”
Halpin said the discovery of the new variant demonstrates the importance of research into flying foxes in order to protect humans and animals from the viruses they carry.
President of Equine Veterinarians Australia, Steve Dennis, said the findings demonstrate that there is a risk of Hendra wherever there are flying foxes and horses.
“Owners and any people who interact with horses can reduce the risk of infection from Hendra virus and other zoonotic viruses through vaccination of horses or humans where available, wearing appropriate PPE, and seeking veterinary attention for sick horses,” he said.
There have been 24 horse deaths in NSW as a result of Hendra virus on 23 properties since the first case 15 years ago.