Professor Hamish McCallum, Head of the Griffith School of Environment, will lead an international team of research experts as they investigate Hendra virus in flying fox populations in Queensland and NSW.

The project will look for ways to predict when and where Hendra virus will pose the greatest risk to horses and the community. Griffith University has been awarded funding to carry out the study as part of the Federal Government’s National Hendra Virus Research Program.

Professor McCallum, a leading expert on the ecology of wildlife diseases, said the three year project would result in a better understanding of infection transmission patterns and ways to reduce risk.

“I am sure our project will provide a much better understanding of the factors that cause the disease to appear and what we can do to manage the spread of this virus”, Professor McCallum said.

“We will draw together existing information and data to develop a series of mathematical models to help predict where and when Hendra virus outbreaks are likely to emerge in flying fox populations”, he said.

“This will enable us to predict times and places when there is particularly high risk of transmission to horses, allowing targeted actions to be taken to reduce that risk.”

A key element of the study will be identifying when suitable mitigation strategies should be implemented. It may be that simply moving flying foxes on may not be the answer.

“Just one of the questions we will be exploring is whether dispersing flying fox colonies could in fact exacerbate the problem,” Professor McCallum said.

The project team includes Prof Peter Hudson and Dr. Raina Plowright from the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University and Dr. Peter Daszak and Dr. Jon Epstein from the Ecohealth Alliance in New York.

The Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, founded by Prof Hudson, is the largest group of experts working on the dynamics and modelling of infectious disease in the world. Dr. Daszak and Dr. Epstein are world leaders in research on bat-borne infectious diseases.