Written by Ashley Dale and Emily Wilson
There has been much speculation in the media about where the Covid 19 virus originated from. Bats have come under fire for this pandemic due to their complicated relationship with zoonotic diseases.
A zoonotic disease is one which can jump between species. In fact, the animal origin of the virus has not yet been confirmed, although it may have originated in bats it potentially could have spread to humans via another animal such as the pangolin. However, despite the fact the bats may have not been the true source of the spread to humans they are still the target for a lot of fear and in some cases hate.
It is important to remember that even if bats were the jump to humans for this virus, it is not the bats fault nor is it our own, it is simply a natural phenomenon and it is out of our hands. All we can do is learn, be mindful and care for one another during this difficult time.
Here are a few common questions answered in the light of Covid 19:
What is the Coronavirus?
The Coronavirus is one of many viruses and is the name of the family that Covid 19 belongs to. This family of viruses include a few serious respiratory viruses as well as a large number of less harmful viruses one of which is the common cold (Yan-Rong et. al., 2020).
There are four different groups of corona virus: alpha, beta, gamma and delta. Of these, alpha and beta originate in mammals, notably bats. While gamma and delta are more diverse and are found in a range of animals including birds and pigs (Velvan and Meger, 2020).
Where has it come from?
The origins of Covid 19 are not very clear but it seems to have started its spread in China and then eventually due to human to human contact to the rest of the world.
Its origin is debated, however two species of coronavirus have been found in bats with 88% similarity (He, Deng and Li, 2020; Park, Thwaites and Openshaw, 2020) while another species has been found with 96.2% similarity (Yan-Rong et. al., 2020). The outbreak of Covid19 started on the 19th of December 2019 and is thought to be related to a seafood market in Wuhan, China.
However, bats were not being sold at this market which indicates an intermediate host (fig1) (Velvan and Meyer, 2020; Yan-Rong et. al., 2020). The intermediate host is unknown, however pangolins and turtles are thought to play a part (Yan-Rong et. al., 2020).
Figure from: Yan-Rong, G., Qing-Dong, C., Zhong-Si, H., Yuan-Yang, T., Shou-Deng, C., Hong-Jun, J., Kai-Sen, T., De-Yun, W., Yan, Y., 2020. The origin, transmission and clinical therapies on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak – an update on the status. Miliary Medical Research., 7(11).
Do UK bats have the Coronavirus and can I get it?
A small percentage of UK bats have been identified carrying some species of virus within the Covid 19 family, however the majority of these viruses are not harmful to humans.
However, Covid 19 is NOT found in UK bats at this current time (Bat Conservation Trust 2020). This means the likelihood of its spread from bat to human in the UK is very low and you are more likely to contract the virus from human to human contact.
Even so, bat carers are still taking precautions, making sure to wear masks and gloves where required (this is also to prevent the spread of the virus from potentially going from human to bat) and to also keeping a high standard of hygiene to protect themselves, the bats and others around them.
Do UK bats carry diseases?
Bats are associated with many types of viruses and diseases however many of which are not harmful to us. There is no risk in the UK of catching Ebola from our UK bat species and although a small number of bats have been identified with lyssa virus 1 and 2 (types of rabies viruses) there is a very low chance of members of the public contracting these viruses especially if certain precautions are taken, such as making sure to wear gloves if you need to place the bat in a box or making sure there is a vaccinated bat carer you can contact for advice on what to do.
The Animal and Plant Healthy Agency (APHA) have tested over 15,000 UK bats since 1986 for rabies viruses and via this surveillance programme less than 30 bats have been identified carrying these viruses. The bats that have been sent to APHA have been done so by the public and bat carers alike.
Can I catch rabies from bats if they roost in my house?
Bats are known to roost in houses as well as trees, and they can roost under tiles and fascia boards and they can access areas like these via small holes the size of your little finger. The risk of you catching rabies from bats that roost in your house is very small, due to the low number of bats that have been identified with the virus and the fact that you would have to be handling the bat without gloves to even contract anything from them.
The best thing to do if you find a bat in distress is to wear gloves or a sock, transfer the bat into a suitable box and ring a bat carer via BCT or our website for advice for what to do next. Do not handle a bat without gloves.
If you need to contact BCT do so via their helpline number: 0345 1300 228
Park, M., Thwaites, R. S., 2020. Openshaw, M. J. P. COVID-19: Lessons from SARS and MERS. European Journal of Immuniology, 50(3), pp. 308-3011.
He, F., Deng, Y., Li, W., 2020. Coronavirus Disease 2019(CORVID-19): What we know. Journal of Medicl Virology,
Yan-Rong, G., Qing-Dong, C., Zhong-Si, H., Yuan-Yang, T., Shou-Deng, C., Hong-Jun, J., Kai-Sen, T., De-Yun, W., Yan, Y., 2020. The origin, transmission and clinical therapies on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak – an update on the status. Miliary Medical Research., 7(11).
Bat Conservation Trust 2020. https://www.bats.org.uk/about-bats/bats-and-disease/bats-and-disease-faqs.