Hendra virus (HeV) is a lethal paramyxovirus which emerged in humans in 1994. Poor understanding of HeV dynamics in Pteropus spp. (flying fox or fruit bat) reservoir hosts has limited our ability to determine factors driving its emergence.We initiated a longitudinal field study of HeV in little red flying foxes (LRFF; Pteropus scapulatus) and examined individual and population risk factors for infection, to determine probable modes of intraspecific transmission. We also investigated whether seasonal changes in host behaviour, physiology and demography affect host–pathogen dynamics. Data showed that pregnant and lactating females had significantly higher risk of infection, which may explain previously observed temporal associations between HeV outbreaks and flying fox birthing periods. Age-specific seroprevalence curves generated from field data imply that HeV is transmitted horizontally via faeces, urine or saliva. Rapidly declining seroprevalence between two field seasons suggests that immunity wanes faster in LRFF than in other flying fox species, and highlights the potentially critical role of this species in interspecific viral persistence. The highest seroprevalence was observed when animals showed evidence of nutritional stress, suggesting that environmental processes that alter flying fox food sources, such as habitat loss and climate change, may increase HeV infection and transmission. These insights into the ecology of HeV in flying fox populations suggest causal links between anthropogenic environmental change and HeV emergence.
Keywords: Hendra virus; Henipavirus; Pteropus scapulatus; zoonotic emerging infectious diseases; flying fox