If COVID transmit to North American Bats, It Could Be Devastating– Here Is The New Risk Assessment

According to new research directed by the U.S. Geological Survey, the risk is low that Researchers could transmit coronavirus to North American bats during winter study.

Researchers determine the overall risk to be 1 in 1,000 if no protective actions are taken, and with proper use of personal protective equipment or if scientists test negative for COVID-19 before beginning the study the risk drops to 1 in 3,333 or less.

The study particularly looked at the possible transmission of SARS-CoV-2. It is a sort of coronavirus that prompts COVID-19, from people to bats. Experts did not investigate the possible transmission of COVID-19 from bats to people.

“These numbers are inadequate, though the outcomes of human-to-bat coronavirus transmission are probably high,” said USGS researcher Evan Grant, an author of the new rapid risk assessment. “The coronavirus has not been recognized in bats of North American, but if it is introduced, it could guide to mortality and sickness, which may jeopardize long-term protection of bats. It could also signify a cause for unique exposure and virus in humans.”

“For wildlife managers and other decision-makers these are severe risks as they consider whether and how to permit scientists to examine bats in their winter colonies,” continued Grant.

If COVID transmit to North American Bats
Bats resting in a cave

Bats contribute to natural services that people appreciate; for example, from prior studies, USGS discovered that bats save more than $3 billion per year for the U.S. farming industry by feeding on pests that ruin crops, reducing the necessity for pesticides. However, they are usually represented as ominous creatures in horror movies and on Halloween. They are also under compulsion from white-nose syndrome, a virus that has killed millions of bats in North America.

The source of SARS-CoV-2 is not verified, but researches show that the virus probably originated from similar viruses discovered in bats in the Eastern Hemisphere.

If COVID transmit to North American Bats
Bats showing symptoms of white-nose syndrome. Source: Kimberli Miller, USGS

The rapid risk evaluation is managed by the Wildlife Service, USGS, and U.S. Fish concentrated on the winter season when some wildlife experts lead fieldwork that may require intimate connection with or direct handling of the animals. It involves analysis of population studies and white-nose syndrome that back Endangered Species Act judgments.

According to the USGS scientist Michael Runge “If researchers use protective gear, especially well-fitted masks with powerful filtration efficiency, or test negative for COVID-19 before handling the study, they considerably lessen the danger of transmission to North American bats.”

“The modern evaluation outlines the most reliable information and is beneficial for notifying time-sensitive administration decisions. Though there are still several unknowns regarding how sensitive North American bats are to SARS-CoV-2 and how future virus variants may influence the transmission,” said Grant.

According to Jeremy Coleman, USFWS Coordinator of National White-nose Syndrome and author of the paper, “The potential for SARS-CoV-2 to affect wildlife is a genuine concern for federal and state wildlife administrators and displays the vital connections between human environments and healthy health. Natural resource supervisors require data from these types of studies to make science-based judgments that encourage conservation attempts while also preserving the wellness of people, bats, and other wildlife.”

COVID transmit to North American Bats
Kimberli Miller, the USGS wildlife disease expert, accumulates field samples from a white-nose syndrome-positive cave in Vermont. Source: USGS

Three bat classes – little brown bats, free-tailed bats, and big brown bats – were involved in the study. They were selected as they have behavioral and physical diversity and are typical species of bats examined in winter. Researchers analyzed several ways the virus could be transmitted between humans and bats, with airborne transmission as the central pathway.

This research evaluates transmission risk to at least one bat during a normal winter study, which involves a group of five experts giving one hour in a cave colonized by 1,000 bats.

This study builds on a USGS-led study published last year that analyzed the possibility of scientists transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to bats during summer study. Since that research, an ample amount of new information and data on the virus has been collected and applied. Winter and summer study can include different activities and settings.

Journal Reference:

Jonathan D. Cook, Jeremy T. H. Coleman, Evan H. C. Grant, Jonathan Michael C. Runge, and M. Sleeman. Risks posed by SARS‐CoV‐2 to North American bats during winter fieldwork. Conservation Science and PracticeDOI: 10.1111/csp2.410

The USGS study was administered by Eastern Ecological Science Center at the National Wildlife Health Center and Patuxent Research Refuge.

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