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Hendra Virus

flying fox.jpeg

What is Hendra?


Hendra is a lethal infectious disease that can transfer from animals to humans. Flying foxes (genus Pteropus) are the natural reservoirs of the virus with spill over possible into horses which in turn can infect other horses and humans.

Horses living with flying foxes in the area, or who travel and come in contact with other exposed horses, are at risk and should be vaccinated. It is recommended that owners protect horses’ feed and water from contamination by flying foxes and that they are kept well away from any trees where the flying foxes roost.

Hendra has been detected in all four major species of flying fox in Australia. It has been responsible for the death of 4 people and over 90 horses.


June, July, August and September is “Hendra season”. This is because there is increase in viral excretion in flying fox population over these months.

Clinical Signs

Horses will begin to show the following signs 5-16 days after contact:

  • Fever

  • Nasal discharge 

  • Increased breathing and heart rate

  • Facial swelling

  • Reduced appetite

  • Weight shifting between legs

  • Head tilt

  • Clumsiness/difficulty walking
    Muscle twitching

  • Can also present with vague, mild and chronic signs!


Humans will show the following signs 5-21 days after contact with bodily secretions (saliva, blood etc.) from an infected horse:

  • Fever

  • Cough

  • Sore throat

  • Headache

  • Drowsiness

The Hendra Vaccine 

Hendra vaccination is clinically proven to protect your horse from the virus. The Hendra vaccination can be safely administered to your horse from 4 months of age. The initial Hendra vaccination schedule includes a first dose (day 1), then a booster 3-6 weeks (day 21-42) later and final third dose 6 months after the second dose. Vaccination status is maintained with an annual boosters thereafter. The vaccine offers complete protection. 

Horses must be micro-chipped to be on the register for the vaccine.

Side effects from the vaccine are rare, the most common being swelling where the horse received the vaccination, usually in the muscle of the neck.

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What to do if you suspect your horse may have Hendra


Hendra virus is a fatal disease to horses and humans.  If you suspect that your horse has Hendra, you should take the following precautions: 

  • Call your Equine Vet as soon as possible:  Illawarra Equine Centre : 02 4448 6488

  • Avoid contact with the horse if possible. If contact with the horse is required in order to isolate them you must wear appropriate personal protective equipment before approaching horse, wash hands with soap and water.

  • Isolate the sick or dead horse from all people, all other horses and all other domestic animals on the premises, and from public access areas where possible.  

  • Advise neighbours that a horse on their property is being investigated for Hendra virus.

  • Observe the sick horse from a distance and notify the veterinarian if there's any change in the behaviour or health of any other horse on the property.

If you have handled a sick horse, follow these steps before having contact with any other person/ animal or horses:

  • Wash off any contamination with plenty of soap and water. 

  • Decontaminate footwear in strong disinfectant.

  • Shower and wash hair, wash clothing in a hot wash

  • Change clothes and footwear.

Health Concerns and Medical Assistance:

  • Seek medical advice if concerned about possible exposure to the Hendra virus.


  • Your local GP

  • NSW public health unit (P: 1300 066 055)

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