Major US Bat Species at Low Risk of COVID-19 Infection
by Alan Cruz, age 16
According to research at the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) here in Madison, big-brown bats, a species common in North America, are immune to coronavirus infections that cause COVID-19. Although 40 other bat species in North America were not tested, the research alleviates worries that wild bats in the continent may be contaminated by humans or spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus to other species.
The virologist who was the lead author of the study, Jeff Hall, states that the research can confidently conclude "...that big brown bats are resistant to infection with the novel (coronavirus)." The big brown bat species is resistant to the virus, but it is still unknown if other species of bats, including those with a threatened population, are safe from it. There is still undergoing research concerning other North American bat species.
Previous research confirmed that the latest coronavirus originally came from horseshoe bats in China in 2019. Animals such as captive Bengal tigers, household cats, domestic dogs, lions, and many more were also discovered to have natural infection of COVID-19, including human-animal transmission.
The Madison researchers studied big brown bats that were removed from Waushara County to explore wild bat's response to the virus. In a lab process, bats were organized into seven pairs. One bat from each of the seven pairs received the coronavirus either orally or nasally. This all took place at the Wildlife Center on the West Side in a biosafety Level 3 laboratory. With this experiment, researchers found zero positive coronavirus cases, no transmission, or detectable virus within the bat samples.
Researchers are confident in their recent finding of big brown bats being resistant to SARS-CoV-2. However, bats around the world are known to be infected by two of four classes of coronavirus, alphacoronaviruses and betacoronaviruses. SARS-CoV-2, which caused the recent MERS and SARS outbreaks in the human population is in the class of betacoronavirus. North American bats have only been detected to be infected with alphacoronaviruses and researchers at the NWHC are planning to continue similar experiments and study various wild bat species in the continent to collect evidence of new coronavirus infections. This research is all coordinated with the ongoing studies of COVID-19 outbreaks in wild mammals near mink farms and whether they caused or were victims of these mink outbreaks.
[Sources: madison.com; National Wildlife Health Center]