Ever since corona virus started to spread and news broke that the likely source of the Covid virus are bats, numerous cases of people killing the bats have surfaced across the world
For example, this is a news from Rajasthan this month- more than 150 bats were killedbecause the people are scared that these bats might infect them and they might contract the corona virus Similarly, the municipal corporation in Bangalore is getting calls from people requesting the removal of bats from the nearby trees
News is coming in from Australia that the bats are being killed. Similar news is pouring in from USA
More than thousands of bats were culled in Indonesia due to fear of them spreading COVID 19
So the question is that were the bats really so dangerous that they could have spread corona virus?
If yes, then how and to what extent? And if you happen to see a bat in your vicinity, how should you react?
Should you be afraid? Should you kill it?
And we spoke to a researcher ‘Rohit Chakravarty’ a chiropterologist who specializes in bats
-We’ve heard on the news that the corona virus originated from bats So do bats spread it? Is it right for the people to get scared of bats?
Not at all! Because the virus that causes the COVID 19 disease
SARS COV 2, which is also called the novel corona virus, A virus related to that has been found in bats, And when I say it has been found in bats, I’m talking about specifically one species
And in total, there are more than 1400 species of bats in the world. So an ancestor of SARS COV 2 has been found in one out of the 1400 species of bats
Recently, ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) came out with a new report that said that a new corona virus has been discovered in bats, which is quite similar to SARS COV 2
(SARS COV 2)- the virus which is spreading COVID 19 all across the world today
This headline scared people and they thought that since the virus is found in bats, they can infect us too
The bats too, can spread corona virus, But the people did not read the news in detail.The detail is that the corona virus found in bats is similar (and not the same)
This virus cannot infect humans, It cannot be transmitted to humans and neither can you contract COVID 19 from it
The virus in bats is different and SARS COV 2 is different. (the latter) is completely a human virus
-But why is it being said that SARS COV 2 originated from bats?
-Because the virus I’m talking about… The virus in bats, which is similar to SARS COV 2. Scientists believe that the corona virus is an ancestor of SARS COV 2
It is believed by the scientists that this virus got transmitted from the bats into another animal and right now, evidence largely points that it got transmitted into the pangolin.
And pangolin, which is a very rare animal, is the world’s most trafficked animal
This animal is traded most widely in wildlife trade today And if this hypothesis is correct, then it proves that wildlife trade might also have a connection with this
-Does this mean that the bats cannot transmit this virus to humans directly, even if bats are the source?
-So even if there is a bat which has SARS COV 2, it cannot transmit us the virus directly
-Yes. So, first of all, bats cannot have SARS COV 2 because SARS COV 2 is our virus- it is a human virus, So they are its source in the wildlife, but it modified itself while transmission from one animal to another and
the virus found in bats, which is similar to SARS COV 2, is called RATG 13
It is a different virus, As per scientific evidence, it got transmitted to the pangolin, and when it got transmitted to humans from the pangolins, then it became SARS COV 2
So what you’re saying basically is, if a virus originates in bats, then it cannot be transmitted to humans directly. Is it necessary for another animal to act as a medium?
-Not in all cases. But in around 90% of the cases in the outbreaks that we’ve seen before, the virus has been transmitted to another animal from bats
And this other animal has mostly been an animal which is either hunted on a very large scale or which is farmed on a very large scale, So either there is wildlife trading of the animal or it is farmed.
For instance, in the case of ebola, the scientists believe that this virus originated in bats which then got transmitted to chimpanzees or deer and then spread to humans from there
– So it is okay for people to be afraid of bats or not?
There is no need to be afraid of bats, It although doesn’t mean that you should embrace a bat or keep it as a pet. Bats are wild animals. Let them thrive in their niche while we stay in ours
Even if there is a bat outside your home let it be. It will feed on something and leave. It won’t harm you at all.
We read in the news that there are so many diseases that bats carry- ebola, rabies, nipah. All of these have come from bats in one way or another
-Focus on transmission more than origin. Alright? Nipah virus can spread from bats only when they’ve eaten a fruit. They chew the fruit and then throw it. And if you make the mistake of picking up a dropped fruit and eating it, then you have chances of contracting the Nipah virus
And not only bats, if you come into contact with the saliva of any animal that is, you directly consume a contaminated thing- then you will contract some disease if not Nipah, for sure
In the case of corona virus, it is almost… Scientists have conducted a lot of studies and there is a very small chance of corona virus spreading through excreta
Because the quantity of virus in the excreta of bats tells us that the number of corona viruses or any other virus is very few, They cannot infect.
-Why is that all these viruses originate in bats only?
-There are two reasons for this actually
Firstly, the immune system of bats is extremely strong and bats are the sole mammals that fly
A unique feature about bats is that they have a very strong immune system. This is the reason why most of these viruses originate in bats. Because the viruses get a live host and a transmitter that can transmit it to other animals
-So if the immune system of the bats is so string, can it be used to develop a vaccine in some way?
-Absolutely. You made a very valid point. Several labs are studying the immune system of the bats
Also, the bats live for quite long. They weigh 5-6 grams and live for 20-30 years. They live longer than even tigers, A lot of people have been studying all this
Most of the people consider bats to be pests- like flies, mosquitoes and rats, but bats are an extremely important animal species in reality. It has two important functions
The first is pollination of flowers and fruits, And the second is control of pests and this function is very important especially in farm and agriculture areas, Because the extent to which the bats control the pests by eating mosquitoes and insects cannot be done even by the pesticides
Scientists have estimated that the cocoa farmers in Indonesia the worth of the help that the bats do in controlling their pests is worth 800 million US dollars, Had it not been for the bats, the farmers would have to spend this much money annually for pest control in their farms
Similarly, it has been estimated that in the US, the bats save 22 billion US dollars every year for the corn farmers in pest control, So you can imagine how much the population of the mosquitoes and insects will grow in the absence of bats
And if it does happen- if the population of bats would drop in an area, then it’d mean that the population of mosquitoes in that area would be more and the diseases spread by them would also rise. For instance- dengue and Chikungunya
-A cyclone hit us recently. But this time, the cyclone travelled through a path besides the mangroves but if the cyclones travel through the mangroves, they control the force of the cyclones to a large extent,
Bats are the creatures that pollinate the flowers of the mangroves the most, So this is very important function of the bats
And if the mangroves are kept intact along the coasts then it would increase the chances of staying safe from natural calamities like cyclones
So the real reason behind the spread of the corona virus is global wildlife trade, The capturing and sale of animals illegally Sometimes for traditional Chinese medicine and sometimes to be used as luxury food
Another reason is habitat destruction, The axing of forests
Ever since the Wildlife Protection act was passed in 1972 until today, only two species of bats are protected in India today
And there are a lot of species on the verge of extinction, So the government needs to extend protection to them immediately
Let us know your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below.