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Lillian Steenblik Hwang – Blog & Journalism Portfolio

Human antibody can protect primates against Hendra virus

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The Hendra virus is a zoonotic virus, or a virus that can infect humans and animals. The Henda virus is in the henipavirus  family (which is a sub group of the paramyxoviridae family of viruses).  This virus is a relatively new threat to humans, and because it has an animal reservoir in the fruit bat – it is hard to eradicate the virus.

For fruit bats, a viral infection is largely asymptomatic – however an infected fruit bat releases a large number of viruses in its urine and feces.

Dog faced Fruit Bat -photo by radiospike photography on Flickr

The virus can then be inhaled, or ingested, and infect another host.

Hendra virus infects both horses and humans. The virus can spread from horse-to-horse (probably through saliva), or from horse-to-human (through aerosol inhalation), but so far no cases of human-to-human infection have been documented.

Hendra virus emerged in Australia, where there have been 14 known Hendra outbreaks in Australia since 1994, and has killed more than 40 horses. Sixty percent of the horses infected die. Horses are thought to get the infection by eating fruit or other foods, or drinking water that has been contaminated by bat droppings.

In humans, the symptoms of the virus are flu-like. People infected with the virus can experience brain inflammation, high fevers, headache and drowsiness.

Recent research done by scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institutes of Health, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the National Cancer Institute, and the Boston University School of Medicine – is  a major step forward in developing better ways to combat this virus. Their research is published in Science Translational Medicine.

Researchers used anti-virus human monoclonal antibody therapy after exposure to Hendra virus to  protect animals from exposure to the virus. Basically the researchers took human antibodies formed from exposure to the virus, cloned them and gave them to animals. These allowed the immune systems of the animals to recognize the virus.

In order to conduct the experiments safely the researchers had to do their work a biosafety level 4 “spacesuit” lab, because there are no therapies, medecines or vaccines to treat humans currently if infected.

“These findings are really quite promising and appear to offer a real potential treatment for Hendra virus infection in people,” said Christopher C. Broder, PhD, professor of microbiology at USU and study corresponding author in a statement.

This is one step closer to nipping this emerging zoonotic disease in the bud before it has a chance to become a real problem for humans, and one step closer to developing a way to treat this virus in humans.

Hendra Virus – image credit Wikimedia

Read more:

The Sydney Morning Herald: Human antibody in Hendra breakthrough

Hendra Virus: Scientific American

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