Hendra Virus
A stableman prepares a horse for riding at the Selangor Polo and Riding Club in Kuala Lumpur April 11, 1999. Reuters/ZH/TAN

Horse owners can now breathe easy. A Queensland researcher is being hailed after a major breakthrough involving the deadly Hendra virus. University of Sunshine Coast researcher Joanna Kristoffersen has developed a rapid diagnostic test for the Hendra virus that can reportedly deliver results in 10 minutes, rather than up to 36 hours.

The test will eliminate the anxious wait for horse owners. To test for the Hendra virus, vets have to currently visit the property and send a sample to Brisbane. This results in unnecessary suffering for animals, delays in treatment and stress for owners. However, the new test works like a pregnancy test and delivers results onsite within 10 minutes.

Kristoffersen added that this rapid diagnostic test enables Hendra outbreaks to “be identified, contained and managed much more efficiently than current methods.” The new process will also be cheaper as there is no need for samples to be transported. The researchers are now looking to commercialise the product with Queensland Health and Biosecurity Queensland.

Kristoffersen, due to her research, is now among 10 finalists of the 2016 Fresh Science competition. It is a national program that highlights the work of early-career researchers.

“The test, if we can acquire further funding, has the potential to be performed on-site on a strip-read format called a lateral flow device. This test is specific, it's sensitive and we can detect nucleic acids rather than other snap tests that use an antibody antigen mechanism. We are working on commercialising it, and hopefully within one to two years we might be able to get this product out. It looks similar to an at-home pregnancy test,” Kristoffersen told the ABC.

Dr. Frank Condon, Atherton Tablelands vet and former president of the Equine Veterinarians Association, welcomed the test concept stating “It's very difficult from north Queensland to get samples down to Biosecurity Queensland to have them tested.” He added that the difficulty currently is distance and the wait time for the results. Hence, he said a fast testing method would be “fantastic.”

The Hendra virus is naturally-occurring in flying fox populations. It was discovered in 1994. The virus is passed onto horses via foetal fluids or faeces and also bat’s urine. Humans catch the deadly virus from horses.

As per Brisbane Times, the Hendra virus has killed more than 70 horses across NSW and Queensland and four out of seven people affected. Last month, a year-long trial for a human vaccine wound up. None of the 40 participants suffered any ill-effect.