In an interesting twist, the US Geological Survey has advised American researchers to wear personal protective equipment and take Covid-19 tests before handling bats in order to protect them from a potential transmission from the researchers to the bats. It’s interesting because it is believed that bats transmitted the disease to people which caused the pandemic.
What goes around comes around, they say. The objective of this advice, though, is not only to protect the bats but to protect people in the long term because the experts are concerned that wild animals and indeed domestic animals might become reservoirs for the disease once we have suppressed it through vaccination programs.
Evan Grant, a US Geological Survey scientist said: “The virus has not been identified in North American bats, but if it is introduced it could lead to illness and mortality, which may imperil long-term bat conservation. It could also represent a source of new exposure and infection in humans.”
The Times newspaper calls the advice “piquant” for the reasons that I have mentioned above. We are told that bats are critical to ecosystems. They help to disperse seeds and they destroy pests. A survey by the USGS found that they save America’s agricultural industry more than $3 billion annually in pesticides.
American’s bats are under threat from a fungal disease that has killed millions of them in North America, called white-nose syndrome.
The USGS found that the risk of people transferring Covid-19 to bats in North America to be one in 1,000 if no protective measures were taken. The risk would be much reduced to one in 3,333 or even less if PPE was used properly or scientists tested negative for covert-19 beforehand.
The real issue is that the consequences of a transmission from people to bats are very large even though the chances of it happening are very small.