Saturday, September 24, 2011

Flying foxes and Hendra virus

Hendra virus has been in the news a lot in recent months. This virus is carried by flying-foxes here in Australia, which in some instances can be transferred to horses, leading to illness and in some cases the horse's death. Why is this of broad interest to the community? In some very rare cases there can be transmission between an infected horse and their human carers or veterinary professionals.

I am concerned because some sources have raised inappropriate concerns in the broader community about flying-foxes living in close proximity to Queensland communities, as a result of Hendra virus "risks". This unnecessary concerned has led some ignorant people to harming flying-foxes and/or attempting to move flying-fox camps away from residential locations.

It is important to be educated on this matter and not bring hysteria and misconception into the equation. The Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation has some useful information on their website. The important messages that I got out of the information provided is:

  • the virus cannot be transmitted directly from flying-foxes to humans;
  • people that have been infected with the virus, did so from extremely close contact with horses;
  • infection from horses to people requires contact with respiratory secretions (eg mucus) and/or blood from the horse;
  • despite exposure to infected horses, numerous people have shown no signs of infection.

Queensland Health also have relevant information on their website, which is useful to consult to understand symptoms in humans of infection.

As background, flying-foxes play an important role in the environment. They are pollinators and seed dispersers for many native plant species. A single flying-fox is reported to potentially be able to disperse 60,000 seeds in a single night (source). They might be noisy, a little smelly in some instances, but they are likely to be in your backyard for a very short period of time.  Overall, they are vital to keep many species within our environment. Let's look after them and become educated about their role and the likely impact they may have on you, your family and your environment, which in the case of Hendra virus is minimal.     Pin It

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