No evidence found of Hendra virus infection in blood-feeding bat flies

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Scientists who investigated blood-feeding bat flies found no evidence that the insects have a primary role in spreading Australia’s dangerous Hendra virus.

Hendra virus can cause potentially fatal respiratory and/or neurological disease in both horses and humans.

Researchers, in a short communication in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health, noted that while Australian native fruit bats have been identified as reservoir hosts, the precise way in which the virus is spread had yet to be explained.

Miranda Vidgen and her colleagues said there had been limited investigation of the role of blood-feeding insects as vectors of the virus. Such research, they said, was particularly relevant because of the blood-feeding parasite known as bat flies.

The researchers, using molecular detection methods, screened for Hendra virus RNA in 183 bat flies collected from flying-foxes in a Queensland roost.

It was later shown that, during the study period, bats in the colony had a Hendra virus RNA prevalence of between 2% and 15%.

The scientists found no evidence of Hendra virus in any of the bat flies tested, including 10 collected from bats in which they had detected Hendra virus RNA.

“Our negative findings are consistent with previous findings and provide additional evidence that bat flies do not play a primary role in Hendra virus transmission,” the study team reported.

The researchers were affiliated with the Queensland Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the state government’s Department of Health.

Vidgen, M. E., Edson, D. W., van den Hurk, A. F., Field, H. E. and Smith, C. S. (2016), No Evidence of Hendra Virus Infection in the Australian Flying-fox Ectoparasite Genus Cyclopodia. Zoonoses Public Health. doi:10.1111/zph.12303

The abstract can be read here

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