CSIRO research could spell Hendra breakthrough

A CSIRO discovery of a new virus in bats – closely related to the Hendra pathogen –  could hold the key to unlocking a deadly secret that has claimed the lives of four people since 1994.

Work by CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory has revealed the existence of a new henipavirus, dubbed ‘Cedar’.

The name is taken from the location of the samples that led to the discovery, the suburb of Cedar Grove on Brisbane’s southern outskirts.

AAHL virologist – and Staff Association Section Councillor – Gary Crameri said that while the new discovery was a close relative to the Hendra and Nipah viruses, Cedar was thought to be harmless to animals and humans.

“We put that into mice, guinea pigs and ferrets and what we found was there was no disease in any of those animals,” Mr Crameri said.

“If we’d done the same thing with Hendra we would have seen dramatic disease in those species,” he said.

While it was still too early to rule the chance that Cedar could cause illness and death in horses or other animals, the signs were good.

“The significance of discovering a new henipavirus that doesn’t cause disease is that it may help us narrow down what it is about the genetic makeup of viruses like Hendra and Nipah that does cause disease and death,” Mr Crameri said.

“Over 70 per cent of people and animals infected with Hendra and Nipah viruses die. This ranks henipaviruses amongst the deadliest viruses in existence, yet little is known about just how such viruses actually cause disease or death,” he said.

The Hendra virus emerged in Queensland in 1994. Testing undertaken by AAHL in Geelong subsequently identified the hitherto unknown pathogen.

Named after the Brisbane suburb in which the outbreak first occurred, Hendra is a genus of the Paramyxoviridae family of virus, including Nipah and now, Cedar.

Scientists believe the virus is carried by fruit bats and later transmitted to people and horses.

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