Flying foxes (genus Pteropus, sub-order Megachiroptera) are the natural hosts of several recently emerged zoonotic viruses of animal and public health significance, including the novel paramyxoviruses Hendra virus in Australia and Nipah virus in South-East Asia. The extent of contact between Australian flying fox populations and those to the north of Australia is unknown, although anecdotal reports suggest seasonal movements from New Guinea to the islands of the Torres Strait to Cape York. Also unknown is the southern geographic limit of Nipah virus in flying foxes, and whether this limit is stable or changing.
The specific objectives of the study are to:
1. Investigate the extent and nature of contact between flying fox populations in northern Australia and pre-border populations using molecular, genetic and satellite telemetry techniques.
2. Describe the occurrence of henipaviruses in targeted northern Australian flying fox populations and pre-border flying fox populations.
Objective 1 will be met by population genetic studies involving mitochondrial DNA and microsatellite DNA techniques and satellite telemetry studies using a geographic information system (GIS) platform.
Objective 2 will be achieved by a series of cross-sectional surveys of flying fox populations in Australian, New Guinea and East Timor that will support seroepidemiologic, virologic, and genetic investigations. Pre-border, these surveys will require a high level of cooperation with the Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy (NAQS), as it is proposed that the flying fox surveys will be (where possible) an extension of regular NAQS pre-border domestic animal surveillance.