• James E Aarons DVM

Hendra Virus Evolution


Is the Hendra Virus really an alien life form coming at us from a very early time in our universe, maybe from another planet?

“Rory this is Katie. You know you’re in the middle of an outbreak?"

"I figured that."

"I’m coming down with Dr. Fowler. We’re setting up a crisis center at the Mid-State Fairgrounds. Dr. Prasad is on his way with a team from Fresno. Don’t touch anything until I can teach you the right way to wear a PPE suit to protect you from contamination. We will be showing people the way to dress and wear them at the center. You can’t go near any contaminated place without this gear. We should be there in six hours.”

“What will they do with the places that are contaminated?"

“The ranches that are affected will be cordoned off with yellow tape and armed guards will be there to stop people from coming near. This part is happening right now, and law enforcement has been notified.”

Later that morning two sheriff’s cars drove to Jen’s house. One stopped at the beginning of the drive where two deputies put up roadblocks at both her and Victoria’s driveway. The other vehicle drove to the house. It was Sheriff McKissack and another fellow.

“Hey John,” Jen said. They had known each other since middle school and went through two quick and failed relationships before giving up that sort of thinking. John was handsome and tall with smooth black hair, dark eyes, and a quick wit. He was the youngest sheriff in recent memory, and now he was anxious. Sheriffs are elected, and he wanted to prove his worth to his constituents.

A tall man with white hair came from the passenger side. He was holding paperwork on a clipboard.

“Hello I’m Dr. Fowler, and I head the Animal Health Branch for the State of California. Dr. Prasad informed me there is an outbreak of Hendra on this property. May I have some time with you?” he asked Jen.

“Absolutely.”

“This virus has only been found in Australia. Have you traveled there?”

“Yes, just over a year ago I escorted one of my dogs through quarantine. I stayed six weeks.”

“Did you bring any animals home?”

“Yes, I brought back King, a Queensland Heeler. He was under Dr. Evans’ care for an immune thing that we are pretty sure is unrelated to Hendra or anything from Australia. His receptionist owns him now. She might not want to talk though because she doesn’t trust the government. But other than having two bumps removed he’s been fine, ask Doc.”

“We need to take blood from all the animals you have on premises. And we have to see any humans who could have been exposed to this virus.”

“What happens if a positive test occurs?”

“We’ll discuss that when and if we need to. I also need you and your neighbor to let us know if there are any animals you have taken off the ranch.”

“Just King the Heeler, the one with the bumps. Oh, and my Chesapeakes. Honey takes them out for bird dog training.”

“Are there any other people on the ranches?” Dr. Fowler asked.

“Victoria’s husband John has been working out of town. Randy, my husband, is in the house. He hasn’t been feeling well, so he’s in bed today.”

“Get him to the hospital immediately. You should go right now; the medical teams have arrived. Which hospital will you be at?”

“Twin Cities.”

“Okay, I’ll call ahead. Both you and your husband need to be tested. We have to see who is carrying this virus.”

“What kind of tests?”

“Blood and throat cultures.”

Jen didn't leave right away. She wanted to see what the crews were going to do. While she and the Doctor were talking two trucks drove onto her property. Three men exited each vehicle and went immediately to the utility packs in the back of each truck to don white, whole body suits with hoods. They also wore long rubber gloves, rubber boots, and full-face respirators with filters. As they helped each other gown up Jen noticed the care they took to make sure there were no breaks in their protective gear, following the buddy system to check the other as they clothed. They taped the tops of the gloves and boots to the suits. They even taped the front zippers. Jen suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable. She followed behind one group and evidently her presence was not an issue, so she stayed in the background to watch.

Working in trios the men went from horse to horse drawing blood samples. Another group focused on the dogs taking blood from Jen’s Chessies.

Dr. Fowler saw that Jen hadn't left and continued his questioning. “Where did you dispose of the dead horses?”

“We have a bone yard in a small canyon at the far end of the property.”

“You need to either bury the dead animals in a deep trench, or you can cremate them where they are. They cannot be left above ground unless they are thoroughly cremated. Also, they cannot be moved off the property. This property will be quarantined which means no animal movement is allowed on or off the ranch until the order is lifted.”

“How long will quarantine last?”

“One cycle of Hendra virus replication and spread requires sixteen days. The Australian government lifts quarantine after there are no more positive results at the end of two Hendra cycles, which is 32 days.”

It suddenly hit Jen that Randy could be in real danger. “I think I should get Randy to the hospital,” Jen said hurriedly. “I’m anxious about him.”

“As well you should be,” replied Dr. Fowler. “What is your cell phone number in case I need to find you?” She rattled off her number and walked quickly to the house to take Randy to Twin Cities.

“Wait here, Randy. I’ll let them know who we are,” she said after parking in the emergency area.

Soon Jen returned with an orderly pushing a wheelchair. He had on a facemask and rubber gloves. He helped Randy into the chair and moved him directly to an isolation room. Jen didn’t have time to change into isolation garments so she blew Randy a kiss goodbye and told him she would be back later.

Then she went to the front desk of the emergency ward. “My name is Jen Bianchi. I just wheeled my husband, Randy into isolation with a possible Hendra Virus infection. Dr. Fowler requested I submit lab samples. Who is coordinating this?”

Rory met Katie at the fairgrounds, and they drove to Jen’s place to see how they could help.

“There’s Dr. Fowler,” Katie said. “You remember Rory Evans don’t you Dr. Fowler?” Katie asked.

“Yes, mostly downstairs, large animal,” Dr. Fowler said shaking Rory’s hand. “It's not the best time to meet is it?”

“I’m worried to shake hands,” Rory admitted.

“Just don’t go near the barn, the horses, or the dogs without gloves and a mask and don’t touch anything unless you’re wearing a PPE suit,” Katie said.

“You also have to wear these white muck boots if you walk onto the property past this point,” Dr. Fowler said pointing to several pairs of waterproof boots.

“Maybe it’s best not to go in,” Rory conceded.

“Let the hazmat crews work through this mess,” Dr. Fowler concurred. “Katie we need to make sure the local hospital has facilities to deal with a Biosecurity Level 4 threat. Have you been in touch with the doctor’s there?”

“Yes. And Dr. Osborne has been moved from ICU into a separate biohazard isolation room.”

“Well, let them know two more infecteds may be coming in. Find out how many beds they have for this level of hazard.”

“Okay I’ll call right now,” Katie replied dialing Twin Cities Hospital. “This is Dr. Katie Reynolds. I’m helping state and federal officials to work up a potential Hendra Virus infection, which is a Biosecurity Level 4 threat. Can I speak to the doctor in charge of the infectious disease wards?”

After a few moments, a voice came on the line. “Hello, this is Dr. Perrone. How can I help you?”

“Hi, Dr. Perrone, this is Dr. Katie Reynolds. I’m with Dr. Evans, a veterinarian here in the north county. Two of our clients’ ranches are being quarantined because the state lab has diagnosed the presence of Hendra Virus in the horses here. The state veterinarian coordinating the process wants to make sure you can isolate the infected people and to verify the Hendra diagnosis.”

“We have just finished building four isolation rooms. However, we do not have the capability or the licensing to diagnose Biosecurity Level 4 agents. Those samples are sent to another lab. But even if the diagnosis of Hendra virus is confirmed there is little to be done treatment-wise, other than offering supportive care in the way of IV fluids, oxygen, and anti-inflammatories. Antiviral medications tried during the Australian outbreak did not help control the Hendra infections.”

“Oh, you have heard of this,” Katie was surprised. She was glad the word traveled so quickly, and more health professionals were coming on board. “You mean to tell me, Dr. Perrone, there is nothing we can do medically other than supportive care even if we have a verified diagnosis?”

“That’s correct.”

“Then how do we control this disease?”

“First we have to stop the spread among the horses with euthanasia and cremation or proper burial techniques. And we have to find out how the virus got here. So far in Australia, there has only been viral transfer from horses to people. Individuals with Hendra haven’t infected others yet. At this time the viral cycle seems to stop at humans. If that changes, we are going to have a gigantic epidemic. Therefore, we are taking no chances and will impose strict quarantine measures on the patients in isolation.”

“Okay, I’ll let the men up here know this.”

“Well, let them know two more infecteds will be coming in. Find out how many beds they have for this level of hazard.”

“Okay I’ll call right now,” Katie replied dialing Twin Cities Hospital. “This is Dr. Katie Reynolds. I’m helping state and federal officials to work up a potential Hendra Virus infection, which is a Biosecurity Level 4 threat. Can I speak to the doctor in charge of the infectious disease wards?”

After a few moments, a voice came on the line. “Hello, this is Dr. Perrone. How can I help you?”

“Hi, Dr. Perrone this is Dr. Katie Reynolds. I’m with Dr. Evans, a veterinarian here in the north county. Two of his clients’ ranches are being quarantined because the state lab has diagnosed the presence of Hendra Virus in the horses here. The state veterinarian coordinating the process wants to make sure you have the capacity to isolate the infected people and to verify the Hendra diagnosis.”

“We have just finished building four isolation rooms. However, we do not have the capability or the licensing to diagnose Biosecurity Level 4 agents. Those samples are sent to another lab. But even if the diagnosis of Hendra virus is confirmed there is little to be done treatment-wise, other than offering supportive care in the way of IV fluids, oxygen, and anti-inflammatories. Antiviral medications tried during the Australian outbreak did not help control the Hendra infections.”

“Oh, you have heard of this,” Katie was surprised. She was glad the word traveled so quickly, and more health professionals were coming on board. “You mean to tell me, Dr. Perrone, there is nothing we can do medically other than supportive care even if we have a verified diagnosis?”

“That’s correct.”

“Then how do we control this disease?”

“First we have to stop the spread among the horses with euthanasia and cremation or proper burial techniques. And we have to find out how the virus got here. So far in Australia, there has only been viral transfer from horses to people. At this time the viral cycle seems to stop at humans. People with Hendra haven’t infected other people yet. However, we are taking no chances and will impose strict quarantine measures on the patients in isolation.”

“Okay, I’ll let the men up here know this. Thanks for your help Doctor.”

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Hendra Virus Evolution: DFDU, Chapter 29