Numerous bat species have been identified as important reservoirs of zoonotic viral pathogens. Rabies and rabies-related viruses constitute one of the most important viral zoonoses and pose a significant threat to public health across the globe. Whereas rabies virus (RABV) appears to be restricted to bats of the New World, related lyssavirus species have not been detected in the Americas and have only been detected in bat populations across Africa, Eurasia, and Australia. Currently, 11 distinct species of lyssavirus have been identified, 10 of which have been isolated from bat species and all of which appear to be able to cause encephalitis consistent with that seen with RABV infection of humans. In contrast, whereas lyssaviruses are apparently able to cause clinical disease in bats, it appears that these lyssaviruses may also be able to circulate within bat populations in the absence of clinical disease. This feature of these highly encephalitic viruses, alongside many other aspects of lyssavirus infection in bats, is poorly understood. Here, we review what is known of the complex relationship between bats and lyssaviruses, detailing both natural and experimental infections of these viruses in both chiropteran and nonchiropteran models. We also discuss potential mechanisms of virus excretion, transmission both to conspecifics and spill-over of virus into nonvolant species, and mechanisms of maintenance within bat populations. Importantly, we review the significance of neutralizing antibodies reported within bat populations and discuss the potential mechanisms by which highly neurovirulent viruses such as the lyssaviruses are able to infect bat species in the absence of clinical disease.
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