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Simpson Street Free Press

Climate Change and Habitat Loss Unveil Causes of Virus Spread from Bats to Humans

Recently a disease that jumped from wild bats to humans came to be known as COVID-19. When it was first diagnosed, people suspected the disease arose from bats and as time progressed, some even falsely accused Asian populations of spreading the disease. It was unclear what started the pandemic, and because of this, scientists started attempting to discover and understand the real cause.

Scientists have learned that animals carry viruses but usually, they have no effect on other animals or humans. This is because the species has already had the virus multiple times and their immune system knows it like a best friend. The virus can then find a new species and, if its immune system does not recognize it, the virus can trigger a disease occurrence. With this information, it makes it helpful to know where, when, and why viruses pass from animals to humans. Alison Peel, a Canadian specialist in wild diseases said, “It is not easy to track when viruses jump from their wild host to a new one.”

Peel has a team working towards finding an answer to what causes a virus to spread. They are working to prevent future pandemics from happening. The team saw that the bats' ecosystems were changing, which likely contributed to or even initiated the disease spread. In particular, the team started to think that climate change played a role in the reason why viruses become more widespread. With this head start, the team began analyzing the bats’ environment and discovered that bats were not getting enough food.

Peel’s team wanted reasons to support why food scarcity was the cause of the change. They looked at major events that included the ecosystem of bats. One of these events was El Niño which caused Australia to become hotter and drier, and trees could not bloom, causing bats to go to farms for food. This move provided the opportunity for the bats to infect horses. After the research team studied these events, they suspected that the changes from tree recovery could be the cause of some diseases spreading, even if it was not during the El Niño years.

Raina Plowright, a research scientist from Cornell University, and her team came up with ideas about restoring critical habitats for bats and other animals. They discovered new forest homes with more abundant food sources. In Australia and many other countries, people destroy natural areas that provide essential homes to wildlife. These scientists want to improve these conditions so animal hunting behavior does not change.

By restoring habitats, scientists hope to prevent future diseases from spreading. They want to reduce the need for these animals to spend time around people and livestock, limiting the risk of diseases spreading and getting out of hand. Raina’s team is unsure if these actions will eradicate the spread of diseases, but they hope they will make a difference.


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