Wednesday 3 June, 2020

Coronavirus: Leave the bats alone - JET

Jamaican fruit bats istock photo

Jamaican fruit bats istock photo

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is seeking to clarify the important role played by bats in the environmental cycle following reports that the dreaded COVID-19 originated from the consumption of the nocturnal creature.

Scientists suspect that the virus was transmitted from a wild animal via a reservoir (intermediate) host to humans, as was the case with the Ebola, SARS and Bird Flu epidemics

Responding to suggestions that eliminating bats may strike a blow in restricting the spread of the virus, the Trust has sought the advice of Dr Susan Koenig at Windsor Research Centre, who has been studying bats in Cockpit Country for many years.

“Following reports that the COVID-19 virus originated in bats, a few people have asked us – shouldn’t we just get rid of all the bats? And our short answer is NO! Bats are important pollinators and control mosquito populations, and their guano (dung) makes fantastic fertilizer!” JET stated in a media release.

JET quoted Koenig as explaining that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 came from a direct interaction between a human and a bat.

“Wild animals like bats often carry viruses which don’t make them sick. Under normal circumstances, these viruses are unlikely to be transmitted to other species; but disturbing the habitat of wild animals and/or bringing them into direct contact with domestic animals and human populations, can lead to a spillover of these viruses – i.e. passing of a virus from one species to another.

"When this happens, viruses from wild animals are typically transmitted to domestic animals first, before they are transmitted to humans. As the virus moves from one host to another it changes and can impact each species differently. So, a virus which doesn’t make a wild animal sick could lead to critical illness in domestic animals or humans. This is what scientists think may have happened in the case of COVID-19,” Koeing reportedly said.

Koenig also explained that Jamaican bats have been isolated in Jamaica for tens of thousands of years and are therefore extremely unlikely to be harbouring a range of diverse viruses which could potentially spillover to other species – including humans.

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