BRISBANE, Australia – An Australian veterinarian has died from a rare viral disease after treating an infected horse, becoming the fourth known fatality from the illness since it was discovered in 1994, a health official said Wednesday.
Queensland state Health Minister Paul Lucas said Alister Rodgers died overnight in a hospital, after treating a foal in July that was infected with the virus.
The foal originally was thought to have died from a snake bite but Hendra was later confirmed in horses at a Queensland nursery that was subsequently quarantined. Four other people who came into contact with the infected horses have tested negative for Hendra.
The virus, named for the Australian suburb where it was found, causes flulike symptoms that can lead to pneumonia or encephalitis. It is believed to originate in fruit bats in Australia and mainly infects horses. The few human infections have come from direct exposure to tissues and secretions from infected horses.
The Australian Veterinary Association has called for more research into the Hendra virus.
"We are really sad that we have lost another colleague and our sympathies go out to Alister's family and work mates," association President Mark Lawrie said. "It's a problem that's not going to go away. We have to change the way we do things."
The Hendra virus was first discovered in a 1994 outbreak that killed a horse trainer and 13 horses. The next year, a farmer assisting in an autopsy of an infected horse became ill and died. In August 2008, another veterinarian died of the virus after treating infected horses at his clinic.
All seven people who have contracted the virus since its discovery have been in the state of Queensland.