Henipaviral diseases
Viruses with pandemic potential

Henipaviruses are a family of five viruses that are naturally harbored by bats. The emergence of henipaviruses parallels the emergence of other zoonotic viruses. They are linked to increased contact between bats and humans, sometimes involving an intermediate domestic animal host.

They are capable of causing illness in humans, associated with high mortality rates. Specifically these viruses are of concern because they can develop into respiratory illnesses and could cause of future pandemics. Especially worrying is that very little is known about the prevalence of these viruses due to a lack of screening.

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PEOPLE

New infections per year

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50

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Fatal

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PEOPLE

Dead per year

What causes Henipaviral disease

The natural hosts of henipaviruses are bats, such as flying foxes, roundleaf and fruitbats. Five henipaviruses are known:

  • Cedar henipavirus (does not cause obvious disease)
  • Ghanaian bat henipavirus or Kumasi virus (does not cause obvious disease)
  • Hendra henipavirus
  • Mojiang henipavirus
  • Nipah henipavirus

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Nipah virus and Hendra virus are closely related viruses that emerge from bats and sometimes cause deadly outbreaks in humans and domesticated animals such as horses.

Photo: Pteropus vampyrus - large flying fox

Where are Henipaviruses found

The viruses that we know of are located in Asia, Australia and Ghana. Outbreaks involving humans have been reported in Australia for Hendra viruses, and in Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh and India for Nipah viruses.

The finding of these novel henipaviruses outside Australia and Asia indicates that the region of potential endemicity of henipaviruses may be worldwide.

The emergence of each of these viruses has been linked to an increase in contact between bats and humans, sometimes involving an intermediate domestic animal host. The increased contact is driven both by human encroachment into the bats’ territory and by movement of bats towards human populations due to changes in food distribution and loss of habitat.

Image: Hendra (blue) and Nipah (orange) virus outbreaks

What are the symptoms of Henipaviral infections

For Nipah virus, symptoms from infection vary from none to fever, cough, headache, shortness of breath, and confusion. This may worsen into a coma over a day or two. More than 50% of those infected die.

Symptoms of Hendra virus infection may be respiratory illness, including hemorrhage and edema of the lungs, or in some cases viral meningitis. More than 60% of those infected die.

How can Henipaviral infections be prevented

Deforestation and associated with this, the lack of specific fruit trees forces these bats to relocate. Replanting trees may help avoid future contact with these species.

Another vector, through which humans frequently come into contact with bats is when harvesting bat guano for use as a fertilizer. Mining activities also lead to increased contact with bat environments.

Avoiding contact with sick animals such as horses and pigs. Animals developing respiratory illnesses may be able to transmit the disease to humans.

Fruit, fruit products and date palm juice can be contaminated by bats.

How are Henipaviral infections diagnosed

Diagnosis is done with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, such as the ones made available by the WoIDM.

How are Henipaviral infections treated

There is no specific treatment other than managing the patient based on symptoms with supportive care. There is no consensus on the use and effectiveness of any antiviral therapies.

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