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Gammaherpesvirus reactivation can promote diseases or impair reproduction. Understanding reactivation patterns and associated risks of different stressors is therefore important. Nevertheless, outside the laboratory or captive environment, studies on the effects of stress on gamma-herpesvirus reactivation in wild mammals are lacking. Here we used Mustelid gammaherpesvirus 1 (MusGHV-1) infection in European badgers (Meles meles) as a host–pathogen wildlife model to study the effects of a variety of demographic, physiological and environmental stressors on virus shedding in the genital tract. We collected 251 genital swabs from 150 free-ranging individuals across three seasons and screened them for the presence of MusGHV-1 DNA using PCR targeting the DNA polymerase gene. We explored possible links between MusGHV-1 DNA presence and seven variables reflecting stressors, using logistic regression analysis. The results reveal different sets of risk factors between juveniles and adults, likely reflecting primary infection and reactivation. In adults, virus shedding was more likely in badgers in poorer body condition and younger than 5 years or older than 7; while in juveniles, virus shedding is more likely in females and individuals in better body condition. However, living in social groups with more cubs was a risk factor for all badgers. We discuss possible explanations for these risk factors and their links to stress in badgers.

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