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Institute of Novel and Emerging Infectious Diseases (INNT)

National Reference Laboratory for Nipah/Hendra Viruses

Nipah virus and Hendra virus infections have been associated with respiratory and neurological disorders in many species in the 1990ies. Hendra Virus was identified for the first time as the cause for a severe respiratory disease in horses, which subsequently killed 14 horses and their traner in Brisbane, Australia. To date, seven people suffered from a Hendra virus infection after direct contact to infected horses (trainers and veterinarians), out of which four infections were fatal.

Between September 1998 and April 1999 Nipah Virus has spread undetectedly as the cause of a respiratory and encephalitic infection in pigs in Malaysia and has then manifested as a fatal encephalitis in man. More than 1 million pigs had to be destroyed. To date, over 400 cases of a Nipah virus infection have been identified, out of which 200 patients died in Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, and India. Flying foxes (fruit bats) of the genus pteroptus are the natural hosts of the virus.

In order to be able to analyse samples from export animals or from suspect animals, a real time RT-PCR protocol for the detection of the N gene (Wang et al., 2001) was established at the national Reference Laboratory. A cooperation with the Australian Reference Laboratory was established. In the frame of this contact, the German Reference Laboratory was supplied with an ELISA test for the detection of antibodies against the Hendra virus in horses that are to be exported to certain regions, or that aer suspicious of a Hendra virus infection.

Diagnostic samples could not be analysed in 2009, since the established diagnostic methods could not be validated against a representative set of sera from horses or pigs. However, the National Reference Laboratory was contacted in two occasions where the presence of Hendra virus specific antibodies should be excluded in race horses prior to their export to Thailand. Following discussions with the German and Thai authorities, the analysis could be canceled, since an infection with the Hendra Virus has never been detected in the European Union before and since the samples would have had to be sent to the Australian Reference Laboratory. As soon as the diagnostic methods can be validated, such analyses can be performed at the FLI.

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Wang, L.F., Harcourt, B.H., Yu, M., Tamin, A., Rota, P.A., Bellini, W.J. und Eaton, B.T. (2001): Molecular biology of Hendra and Nipah viruses. Microbes Infect. 3; 279-287.doi:10.1016/S1286-4579(01)01381-8