Hendra virus (HeV) is a lethal zoonotic agent that emerged in 1994 in Australia. Pteropid bats (flying-foxes) are the natural reservoir. To date, HeV has spilled over from flying-foxes to horses on 51 known occasions, and from infected horses to close-contact humans on seven occasions. We undertook screening of archived bat tissues for HeV by reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). Tissues were tested from 310 bats including 295 Pteropodiformes and 15 Vespertilioniformes. HeV was detected in 20 individual flying-foxes (6.4%) from various tissues including spleen, kidney, liver, lung, placenta and blood components. Detection was significantly higher in Pteropus Alecto and P. conspicillatus, identifying species as a risk factor for infection. Further, our findings indicate that HeV has a predilection for the spleen, suggesting this organ plays an important role in HeV infection. The lack of detections in the foetal tissues of HeV-positive females suggests that vertical transmission is not a regular mode of transmission in naturally infected flying-foxes, and that placental and foetal tissues are not a major source of infection for horses. A better understanding of HeV tissue tropism will strengthen management of the risk of spillover from flying-foxes to horses and ultimately humans.
Goldspink, L. K., Edson, D. W., Vidgen, M. E., Bingham, J., Field, H. E., & Smith, C. S. (2015). Natural Hendra virus infection in flying-foxes - Tissue tropism and risk factors. PLoS ONE, 10(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128835