Batman Might Be In Trouble With His Bat Buddies, Bats Carry More Viruses Than Rats
“Quick! To the Batmobile, Robin! There’s bat viruses afoot!”
batmanwatchoutIt sounds like Batman must have read the new study from Colorado State University, situated in Fort Collins, Colorado, indicating bats carry a larger number of transferable mammal-to-human viruses than do other rodent species. This finding is both intriguing and troubling, raising new questions concerning what this may mean for humans in areas with large human and bat populations.
In 2003, the SARS virus erupted on a global scale, bringing attention to viruses capable of jumping from one species to another. The SARS virus, in particular, was linked back to bat contagion.
Angela Luis is one of the scientists in Colorado who compared virus studies on the 1000-plus species of bats with virus studies on the 2000-plus species of rodents. Their study concluded that any single species of bats carries an average of 1.79 viruses known to also be capable of infecting humans. Rodents, meanwhile, carry an average of 1.48 viruses which are known to infect humans.
Bats live in large groups called colonies. Colonies of bats often number in the hundreds of thousands, and sometimes well into the millions. Batman and Robin would probably not enjoy living like their bat cousins live, grouped together in large caverns and caves, and often sharing their abodes with bats of other species unlike themselves.
Scientists noticed that bats sharing a region with other bat species carried a higher number of viruses than those who didn’t. They theorize sharing and intermingling in roosts may be part of the reason for the higher virus rate. Other rodents don’t group themselves together with other species not their own.
To Worry or Not To Worry, That Is The Question
EcoHealth Alliance is a non-profit in New York City working in the Environmental Health sector. Kevin Olival, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Ecohealth, cautions, “Many people would say the jury is still out on whether or not they are the most important group of mammals.” He reminds us there are many other groups of animals to consider.
Jonathan Epstein is an veterinary epidemiologist with EcoHealth Alliance points out we still have a lot to learn about bat’s immune systems and about their physiology. He is interested in whether bats are more capable of carrying these species-transferrable viruses than rodents.
Batman Might Be Getting A Dirty Rap
Bats, overall, are good for the environments in which they live. They keep insect pest populations in check and save farmers a considerable sum on pesticides and insecticides, not to mention the environmental toll of such toxins. Bats help, along with bees and birds, to pollinate our plants and trees. Perhaps the real problem is human encroachment on bat’s territories, creating a unique opportunity for species-jumping viruses to thrive.