Hendra Virus Spillover is a Bimodal System Driven by Climatic Factors
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Understanding environmental factors driving spatiotemporal patterns of disease can improve risk mitigation strategies. Hendra virus (HeV), discovered in Australia in 1994, spills over from bats (Pteropus sp.) to horses and thence to humans. Below latitude − 22°, almost all spillover events to horses occur during winter, and above this latitude spillover is aseasonal. We generated a statistical model of environmental drivers of HeV spillover per month. The model reproduced the spatiotemporal pattern of spillover risk between 1994 and 2015. The model was generated with an ensemble of methods for presence–absence data (boosted regression trees, random forests and logistic regression). Presences were the locations of horse cases, and absences per spatial unit (2.7 × 2.7 km pixels without spillover) were sampled with the horse census of Queensland and New South Wales. The most influential factors indicate that spillover is associated with both cold-dry and wet conditions. Bimodal responses to several variables suggest spillover involves two systems: one above and one below a latitudinal area close to − 22°. Northern spillovers are associated with cold-dry and wet conditions, and southern with cold-dry conditions. Biologically, these patterns could be driven by immune or behavioural changes in response to food shortage in bats and horse husbandry. Future research should look for differences in these traits between seasons in the two latitudinal regions. Based on the predicted risk patterns by latitude, we recommend enhanced preventive management for horses from March to November below latitude 22° south.
Ecology not elsewhere classified