Scientists Announce Possible Treatment for Deadly Virus

A team of Australian and U.S. scientists believe they have found an antibody that could protect humans from the deadly Hendra virus, Australia's Northern Miner reported yesterday.

Researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia's maximum biosecurity facility, have developed a treatment that appears to block infection in people who have come into contact with the virus.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department has been reported to consider Hendra a possible bioterrorism agent, because of the disease's lethality. In the seven known occurrences of human Hendra infection, there has been a 57 percent fatality rate.

Transmissions of the virus thus far have only been known to occur from bats to horses and from horses to humans. All cases have reportedly occurred in Queensland, Australia.

"The idea is to eventually take people ... who've been potentially exposed to a horse that's infected with Hendra virus and to provide therapy to those people," said lead researcher Deborah Middleton.

"As Hendra and Nipah viruses cause severe disease in humans, a successful application of this antibody as a post-exposure therapy will likely require early intervention," she said.

Antibodies – proteins found in blood or other bodily fluids of vertebrates – are used by the immune system to identify and neutralize bacteria and viruses.

First identified in Brisbane and isolated by CSIRO scientists in 1994, Hendra virus, which spreads from flying foxes, has regularly infected horses in Australia. Of the 13 equine outbreaks, four have led to human infection, with four of the seven known human cases being fatal, the most recent of these in September 2009.  Human infection results from close contact with the blood and/or mucus of infected horses.

Middleton said the success of the antibody would probably depend on dose and time of administration.

The results of this latest research, conducted in collaboration with scientists from the United States’ Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., were published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

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