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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Australia : Climate Change Boosts Lethal Hendra Virus

Via Scientific American, excerpt :

" Heavy rains and floods in Australia may have helped the deadly disease cross from bats to humans and that has doctors concerned about climate change

It started with Vic Rail's horses, in September 1994. First one, then another, they died horrible deaths, 13 horses in all over the span of just two weeks, frothing from their noses and mouths, thrashing in agonizing pain. Then Rail died too.

Weeks later Australian officials isolated a newly discovered virus they ultimately named Hendra, after the Brisbane suburb where Rail and his horses died. For 17 years, Hendra virus smoldered in its host population of fruit bats killing nearly 50 horses and claiming three more human lives.

Then in May, something happened.

It was as if Hendra virus awoke from a slumber and roared fully into life. There have been more outbreaks of Hendra in 2011 – 18 at last count – than in the 16 previous years.

Veterinary epidemiologists hunting the virus now know definitively that Australia's fruit bats (Pteropus sp.), also called flying foxes, spread the disease to horses, which then can infect humans. And while they don't know the exact cause of the huge escalation in outbreaks, they strongly suspect it has something to do with the heavy rainfall and big floods that drowned northeastern Australia from November 2010 to February 2011."

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