Henipaviruses are the deadliest human pathogens of the Paramyxoviridae family. The genus Henipavirus includes two closely related, zoonotic, and highly pathogenic paramyxoviruses, Nipah virus (NiV) and Hendra virus (HeV), which cause high morbidity and mortality in animals and humans. There are no approved therapeutics to treat or prevent henipavirus infections in humans. The bat species Pteropus are the natural reservoir of henipaviruses, and zoonotic transmission can occur directly or through an intermediate host; horses for HeV and pigs for NiV. The unavailability of a treatment for these infections, the recent detection of HeV antibodies in family pets and the emergence of NiV infections in new geographic areas (Philippines) are an illustration of the risk that these viruses possess and their momentum of becoming a global threat. Unless an effective therapeutic against these viruses is developed, they will continue to emerge and cause significant challenges and threats in the coming years.

Key Concepts

  • The newly established genus Henipavirus of Paramyxoviridae family has three members Hendra, Nipah and Cedar viruses.
  • Fruit bats of the genus Pteropus have been identified as the natural reservoir for henipaviruses.
  • Both Nipah and Hendra viruses are highly pathogenic agents that cause acute encephalitis and respiratory illness with high mortality rate in humans, pigs and horses.
  • There is no approved therapeutics for the treatment of henipaviruses, and they continue to pose a threat in Australia (Hendra virus) and East and Southeast Asia (Nipah virus) with a great potential to spread beyond these regions.
  • M 102.4 is an experimental monoclonal antibody that targets the viral entry stage of Henipavirus and was proven to treat henipavirus infections in animals.

Keywords: Henipavirus; Hendra virus; Nipah virus

Figure 1. Genomic length comparison between Nipah virus and other members of the Paramyxoviridae family. A comparison between genomic length of Nipah virus (NiV) and Newcastle disease virus (NDV), both are the members of the Paramyxovirinae, clearly shows that NiV genome is significantly larger than that of NDV. The exceptionally large non‐coding region and P gene of NiV make it one of the largest viral genomes in the Parmayxovirdae family.
Figure 2. Areas of reported Hendra virus outbreaks. The highlighted region represents the areas where most of the reported Hendra virus outbreaks have occurred. The black circle and star above show the locations of Brisbane and Mackay, where the first and second HeV deaths were recorded, respectively. It is believed that the virus is transmitted from bats to humans via horses in Queensland, Australia. Research shows the presence of Hendra virus in 30–60% of fruit bat urine samples collected; therefore, Hendra virus has the potential to be found wherever fruit bats are found.
Figure 3. Areas of reported Nipah virus outbreaks. The highlighted region corresponds to the areas of reported Nipah virus outbreaks. NiV is known to be transmitted from bats, and pigs are believed to be the viral amplifying host. Fruit bat distribution is significantly larger than the highlighted area, which makes spillovers to other areas quite possible. Recent reports of NiV outbreaks in the Philippines demonstrate the prospect of a wider spreading, making all areas of fruit bat distribution as high risk areas.


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Further Reading

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Field H, Schaaf K, Kung N, et al. (2010) Hendra virus outbreak with novel clinical features, Australia. Emerging Infectious Diseases 16 (2): 338–340.

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Aljofan, Mohamad(Sep 2015) Henipaviruses. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023275]