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Why hungry bats could start the next pandemic

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First identified in Australia in 1994, the disease is infect humansIn the first outbreak, two people contracted the virus from horses. Since then, Hendra has spread about 60 infections from bats to horses, infecting seven people and killing four.

Scientists in Australia and the United States have collected data over the past 25 years to better understand why these spillovers occurred. In two of his landmark papers published in Nature When ecology letterThe research team found that the Hendra outbreak occurred after the fruit bats suffered severe food shortages.

Typical nomadic bats rely heavily on the nectar of eucalyptus flowers, descending to giant ‘active roost’ trees when the flowers bloom. No spillover events were reported in years when these flowers were abundant.

nutritional stress

But deforestation and climate change mean that trees are producing fewer and fewer flowers. This forced the flying foxes to migrate to human-inhabited areas in search of food, where they came into closer contact with horses.

After sampling the bats, the researchers also found higher rates of Hendra virus, especially in the winter after climate-induced nectar shortages, further increasing the risk of outbreaks. This is likely because infected bats do not have the energy to sustain an immune response that suppresses the virus.

Professor Raina Plowright, an infectious disease ecologist at Cornell University, told The Telegraph, “Across mammals, we speculate that animals that are nutritionally stressed are less able to control the virus and are therefore more likely to shed the virus. I can do it.

She added that this is likely also true for other bat viruses — including the diseased Nipah. Fatality up to 70%.

“Strategies to ensure that animals are well fed, develop sufficient habits to keep them from being stressed, and allow them to navigate their environment without overlapping with humans can all help reduce the risk of spillovers. said Professor Plowright.

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