Daily News Analysis



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Bats and humans have cohabited since time immemorial.


Critical roles played by bats

  • Throughout the night, these bats devour insects in farms, fields, forests, grasslands and around our homes, including agricultural pests and disease-causing mosquitoes.
  • Some bats sip nectar, pollinate flowers, eat fruits, and spread the seeds of many important tree species including wild varieties of bananas, guava, cashew, mango, figs, mahua and other fruits.
  • Bat droppings (guano) mined from caves are widely used as a fertilizer for agricultural crops as they have high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous.


Role in disease spread

  • With scientific evidence mounting that the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes COVID-19 originated in bats, there are growing fears of further disease transmission from bats.
  • Bats are known or suspected to be the natural reservoirs for many novel and recently emerged pathogenic viruses such as Nipah, Hendra, Marburg, Ebola and the coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome.
  • Despite being reservoirs for viruses, bats never fall sick. Bats have evolved mechanisms to avoid such damage by suppressing their immune systems, which helps them combat infections and control virus propagation.
  • Transmission of pathogens from their natural host or reservoirs to novel hosts such as humans — are unusual and rare events, and tend to occur when there is increased contact between humans and wild hosts.


Some precautions

  • Avoid handling or eating bats, and not eating fallen fruits gnawed by bats or fruits likely to be contaminated by bat fluids. This would greatly reduce the risk of spillover.
  • In the longer term, work towards restricting and reversing land-use change practices that are bringing us in greater contact with, and increasingly stressing out, animals that may harbour ‘emerging infections’.


Restore the balance

  • There is need to regain balance with nature and animals through a combination of habitat restoration and co-existence with wildlife such as bats.
  • Integrated approaches such as One Health, where human health is linked to that of the environment and animals can result in the best possible outcomes.
  • A world with fewer bats around us will be one that suffers greater crop losses to agricultural pests.