Wednesday 13 May 2020

Flying foxes in South Australia exposed to zoonotic viruses

Date: May 11, 2020
Source: University of Adelaide

University of Adelaide researchers have found that South Australia's population of Grey-headed flying foxes, which took up residence in 2010, has been exposed to a number of viruses, including Hendra virus that can be transmitted to humans via horses. But they have not found evidence of exposure to Australian bat lyssavirus.

The research, published today in PLOS ONE, details three years of research into the local flying fox population and their exposure to paramyxoviruses (Hendra, Cedar and Tioman) and a rhabdovirus (Australian bat lyssavirus).

Hendra virus and Australian bat lyssavirus are classified as zoonotic viruses. Hendra virus for example can be transmitted to horses and then to humans by airborne droplets causing acute respiratory diseases and death. In the case of Australian bat lyssavirus, humans and other animals need to be bitten or scratched by a carrier. The risks posed by Hendra virus are extremely low with only seven cases in humans, all of whom had been in contact with infected horses, never directly from bats.

Dr Wayne Boardman from the University of Adelaide's School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences says given the Grey-headed flying foxes are known carriers of viruses, they wanted to understand if the local population of flying foxes had been exposed to them.

"Grey-headed flying foxes are essential ecosystem service providers contributing to large-scale pollination and seed dispersal and are a nationally threatened species," Dr Boardman said.

"They have this extraordinary ability to be infected with viruses but don't show any ill effects, except for one virus; the Australian bat lyssavirus. It's important to understand what risks they pose to humans.

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