"Deforestation Brings Bat-Borne Virus Home to Roost"

"Habitat loss and food shortages have pushed bats into closer proximity to horses and humans, fueling Hendra virus spillover, a new study suggests."

"In September 1994, a mysterious interspecies outbreak erupted in Hendra, a suburb of Brisbane, Australia. First, a pregnant mare fell ill and died. Soon, more horses were sick, spiking fevers and expelling a foamy discharge from their snouts. Two middle-aged men — a stablehand and a horse trainer who had reportedly tried to hand-feed the dying mare — developed flulike symptoms, too. Although the stablehand recovered, the trainer ultimately died, as did more than a dozen horses.

Scientists eventually traced the outbreak to a virus carried by fruit bats, also known as flying foxes. The bats shed the pathogen, which was named the Hendra virus, in their feces and saliva, spreading it to horses, which can then pass it on to humans. In the years since, there have been dozens of additional outbreaks in horses, and several more cases in humans.

A new study, based on 25 years of data from Australia, suggests that environmental changes have been driving these spillovers by radically altering the ecology of black flying foxes. Deforestation, coupled with climate-linked food shortages, has driven the bats into human-dominated habitats like farms, where food is readily available but may be of poorer quality, scientists reported in Nature on Wednesday."

Emily Anthes reports for the New York Times November 16, 2022.

Source: NYTimes, 11/17/2022