Science & Technology

If COVID spreads to North American bats, it can be disastrous – this is the current risk assessment.

Brazilian free-tailed bat that eats insects. Credits: Paul Cryan, USGS

According to a new study led by the US Geological Survey, scientists are at low risk of transmitting the coronavirus to bats in North America during winter studies.

For scientists, if no protective measures are taken, or if the scientist is negative on the test, the overall risk is 1 in 1,000 and the risk is reduced to less than 1 in 3,333. COVID-19 (new coronavirus infection) Before starting research.

The study focused on potential infections in particular SARS-CoV-2, From humans to bats, is a type of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Scientists have not investigated the potential transmission of bats to humans.

Bat colony

A bat roosting in a cave. Credits: Alan Cressler, USGS

“This is a small number, but the consequences of human-to-bat transmission of the coronavirus are potentially significant,” said USGS scientist Evangelt, author of the new rapid risk assessment. “The virus has not been identified in North American bats, but if introduced, it can lead to illness and death, which can interfere with the long-term protection of bats. It is also human. It can also cause new exposures and infections. “

“These are difficult risks for wildlife managers and other decision makers to consider when considering whether and how researchers can study bats in winter colonies.” Grant continues.

Study of White Nose Syndrome

Bats show signs of infection with the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which causes white nose syndrome. Credits: Kimberli Miller, USGS

Bats provide natural services that people value.For example, in a previous USGS survey, bats described the US agricultural industry. $ 3 billion annually Eating pests that are harmful to crops reduces the need for pesticides. Still, in Halloween and horror movies, they are often mistakenly portrayed as menacing creatures. They are also suffering from White Nose Syndrome, a disease that killed millions of bats in North America.

The origin of SARS-CoV-2 has not been confirmed, but studies suggest that the virus may be derived from a similar virus found in bats in the eastern hemisphere.

Rapid risk assessments conducted by the USGS and US Fish and Wildlife Service focus on winter when some wildlife scientists perform fieldwork that may require close contact or direct handling with animals. I did. This includes studies of Whitenose Syndrome and population studies that support the endangered species law decisions.

Bat research

Kimbel Limirer, a USGS wildlife disease expert, collects field samples from a Whitenose Syndrome-positive cave in Vermont. Credit: USGS

“If scientists wear protective equipment, especially well-fitted masks with high filtration efficiency, or test negative for COVID-19 before conducting research, the risk of transmission to North American bats is significant. It will decrease, “says USGS scientist Michael Runge. New evaluation.

“Current assessments represent the best available information and help inform time-sensitive administrative decisions, but how vulnerable North American bats are to SARS-CoV-2, It is still unclear how future viral mutations will affect infection. “

Little brown bat and Indiana bat

A single Myotis lucifugus (small brown bat; black nose) within a cluster of M. sodalis (Indian bat; pink nose).Credit: University of Tennessee Riley Bernard

“The potential for SARS-CoV-2 to infect wildlife is a real concern for state and federal wildlife management agencies and reflects an important link between human health and a healthy environment.” Said Jeremy Coleman, National White Nose Syndrome Coordinator at USFWS. The author of the treatise. “Natural resource managers need information from these types of analyses to make scientific decisions that drive conservation efforts while protecting the health of people, bats and other wildlife. . “

Three types of bats were included in the analysis: the free-tailed bat, the black kite bat, and the black kite bat. They have physical and behavioral differences and were chosen because they are typical of the species of bats studied in winter. Scientists have explored various ways in which the virus can be transmitted between humans and bats. The main route is aerial transmission.

Hibernating bats in Vermont Cave

Bats hibernating in Vermont Cave. Credits: Kim Miller, USGS National Wildlife Health Center

This study estimates the risk of infection of at least one bat during a typical winter study, including a team of five scientists spending an hour in a cave home to 1,000 bats.

This study is based on USGS-led research During a summer study published last year, researchers investigated the possibility of infecting bats with SARS-CoV-2. Since that study, a significant amount of new data and knowledge about viruses has been acquired and applied. Winter and summer studies may include a variety of settings and activities.

See also: “Risks posed by SARS-CoV-2 to North American bats during winter fieldwork”, Jonathan D. Cook, Evan HC Grant, Jeremy TH Coleman, Jonathan M. Sleeman, Michael C. Runge, March 2021 30 days Conservation science and practice..
DOI: 10.1111 / csp2.410

The USGS research was conducted through the Eastern Ecological Science Center and the National Wildlife Health Center at Pataxent Research Refuge.

If COVID spreads to North American bats, it can be disastrous – this is the current risk assessment. If COVID spreads to North American bats, it can be disastrous – this is the current risk assessment.

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