Pathogens causing acute disease and death or lasting immunity require specific spatial or temporal processes to persist in populations. Host traits, such as maternally-derived antibody (MDA) and seasonal birthing affect infection maintenance within populations. Our study objective is to understand how viral and host traits lead to population level infection persistence when the infection can be fatal. We collected data on African fruit bats and a rabies-related virus, Lagos bat virus (LBV), including through captive studies. We incorporate these data into a mechanistic model of LBV transmission to determine how host traits, including MDA and seasonal birthing, and viral traits, such as incubation periods, interact to allow fatal viruses to persist within bat populations. Captive bat studies supported MDA presence estimated from field data. Captive bat infection-derived antibody decayed more slowly than MDA, and while faster than estimates from the field, supports field data that suggest antibody persistence may be lifelong. Unobserved parameters were estimated by particle filtering and suggest only a small proportion of bats die of disease. Pathogen persistence in the population is sensitive to this proportion, along with MDA duration and incubation period. Our analyses suggest MDA produced bats and prolonged virus incubation periods allow viral maintenance in adverse conditions, such as a lethal pathogen or strongly seasonal resource availability for the pathogen in the form of seasonally pulsed birthing.