Recrudescent infection supports Hendra virus persistence in Australian flying-fox populations.
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Zoonoses from wildlife threaten global public health. Hendra virus is one of several zoonotic viral diseases that have recently emerged from Pteropus species fruit-bats (flying-foxes). Most hypotheses regarding persistence of Hendra virus within flying-fox populations emphasize horizontal transmission within local populations (colonies) via urine and other secretions, and transmission among colonies via migration. As an alternative hypothesis, we explore the role of recrudescence in persistence of Hendra virus in flying-fox populations via computer simulation using a model that integrates published information on the ecology of flying-foxes, and the ecology and epidemiology of Hendra virus. Simulated infection patterns agree with infection patterns observed in the field and suggest that Hendra virus could be maintained in an isolated flying-fox population indefinitely via periodic recrudescence in a manner indistinguishable from maintenance via periodic immigration of infected individuals. Further, post-recrudescence pulses of infectious flying-foxes provide a plausible basis for the observed seasonal clustering of equine cases. Correct understanding of the infection dynamics of Hendra virus in flying-foxes is fundamental to effectively managing risk of infection in horses and humans. Given the lack of clear empirical evidence on how the virus is maintained within populations, the role of recrudescence merits increased attention.