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Flying foxes in Australia exposed to zoonotic viruses

Date: 12 May 2020 Tags: Biodiversity


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.



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.

  • 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.

  • The research on the local population has also revealed that Hendra virus levels were significantly higher in pregnant females; results that align with findings interstate.


Flying fox

  • They are commonly known as fruit bats or flying foxes, among other colloquial names. They live in the tropics and subtropics of Asia, Australia, East Africa, and some oceanic islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

  • They locate resources with their keen sense of smell. Most, but not all, are nocturnal. They navigate with keen eyesight, as they cannot echolocate.

  • They have long life spans and low reproductive outputs, with females of most species producing only one offspring per year.

  • They are ecologically beneficial by assisting in the regeneration of forests via seed dispersal. They benefit ecosystems and human interests by pollinating plants.

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