Nipah virus dynamics in bats and implications for spillover to humans

Epstein JH, Anthony SJ, Islam A, Kilpatrick AM, Ali Khan S, Balkey MD, Ross N, Smith I, Zambrana-Torrelio C, Tao Y, Islam A, Quan PL, Olival KJ, Khan MSU, Gurley ES, Hossein MJ, Field HE, Fielder MD, Briese T, Rahman M, Broder CC, Crameri G, Wang LF, Luby SP, Lipkin WI, Daszak P


Nipah virus (NiV) is an emerging bat-borne zoonotic virus that causes near-annual outbreaks of fatal encephalitis in South Asia-one of the most populous regions on Earth. In Bangladesh, infection occurs when people drink date-palm sap contaminated with bat excreta. Outbreaks are sporadic, and the influence of viral dynamics in bats on their temporal and spatial distribution is poorly understood. We analyzed data on host ecology, molecular epidemiology, serological dynamics, and viral genetics to characterize spatiotemporal patterns of NiV dynamics in its wildlife reservoir, Pteropus medius bats, in Bangladesh. We found that NiV transmission occurred throughout the country and throughout the year. Model results indicated that local transmission dynamics were modulated by density-dependent transmission, acquired immunity that is lost over time, and recrudescence. Increased transmission followed multiyear periods of declining seroprevalence due to bat-population turnover and individual loss of humoral immunity. Individual bats had smaller host ranges than other Pteropus species (spp.), although movement data and the discovery of a Malaysia-clade NiV strain in eastern Bangladesh suggest connectivity with bats east of Bangladesh. These data suggest that discrete multiannual local epizootics in bat populations contribute to the sporadic nature of NiV outbreaks in South Asia. At the same time, the broad spatial and temporal extent of NiV transmission, including the recent outbreak in Kerala, India, highlights the continued risk of spillover to humans wherever they may interact with pteropid bats and the importance of limiting opportunities for spillover throughout Pteropus's range.

Keywords: Nipah virus; Pteropus; bats; disease modeling; henipavirus.

Copyright © 2020 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interest.