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New deadly virus strain from bats emerges in Australia: 'Dangerous to people'

A new strain of Hendra virus, which is found in flying foxes, has been found in NSW.

The CSIRO said the latest case was found in a horse in Newcastle. There was a Hendra outbreak in 2014 which led to more than 80 horses dying or being euthanised in Australia.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries said the case was found in a seven-year-old unvaccinated Clydesdale from West Wallsend, near Newcastle. It has since been euthanised.

“No other horses on the property are showing any signs of ill health,” the DPI said.

“A District Veterinarian from Hunter Local Land Services has issued an Individual Biosecurity Direction to control the movement of animals and people on and off the property for 21 days.”

Flying foxes are pictured hanging from a tree branch.
A new strain of Hendra virus has been found near Newcastle. It's transferred to horses from flying foxes. Source: Getty Images (file pic)

CSIRO scientist Dr Kim Halpin said she does not believe the bats can transfer the virus to humans though. It can however be transmitted to humans via horses.

“It’s 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,” Dr Halpin said.

"And given the similarities, while more research is needed, we expect the existing Hendra virus vaccine for horses should work against this new type too.

“This finding really underscores the importance of research into flying foxes – it's crucial to helping us understand and protect Australians against the viruses they can carry.”

The Hendra virus vaccine Equivac HeV is pictured on a property in Brisbane.
A doctor prepares to administer Equivac HeV in Brisbane in 2013. Source: AAP

Equine Veterinarians Australia president Steve Dennis told the ABC the new strain, HeV-g2, is “likely to be as dangerous to people as well”.

“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.

The DPI said no person in NSW has ever died from Hendra virus.

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