Support for viral persistence in bats from age-specific serology and models of maternal immunity.

17 May 2018

Spatiotemporally-localised prediction of virus emergence from wildlife requires focused studies on the ecology and immunology of reservoir hosts in their native habitat. Reliable predictions from mathematical models remain difficult in most systems due to a dearth of appropriate empirical data. Our goal was to study the circulation and immune dynamics of zoonotic viruses in bat populations and investigate the effects of maternally-derived and acquired immunity on viral persistence. Using rare age-specific serological data from wild-caught Eidolon helvum fruit bats as a case study, we estimated viral transmission parameters for a stochastic infection model. We estimated mean durations of around 6 months for maternally-derived immunity to Lagos bat virus and African henipavirus, whereas acquired immunity was long-lasting (Lagos bat virus: mean 12 years, henipavirus: mean 4 years). In the presence of a seasonal birth pulse, the effect of maternally-derived immunity on virus persistence within modelled bat populations was highly dependent on transmission characteristics. To explain previous reports of viral persistence within small natural and captive E. helvum populations, we hypothesise that some bats must experience prolonged infectious periods or within-host latency. By further elucidating plausible mechanisms of virus persistence in bat populations, we contribute to guidance of future field studies.