Researchers have found at least six new strains of coronavirus in bats. Some speculate there could be a thousand. SARS, remember that? Yeah, a coronavirus strain that is believed to have originated in bats.
The researchers discovered the viruses while surveying bats in Myanmar as part of a government-funded program called PREDICT to identify infectious diseases that have the potential to hop from animals to humans. And bats are prime suspects, as the mammals are thought to host thousands of yet-to-be-discovered coronaviruses. SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19, is also thought to have originated in bats before taking up residence in humans, possibly taking a detour through some intermediary host first.Bats, "a reservoir of rapidly reproducing and highly transmissible viruses."
The Sars-CoV-2 virus almost certainly originated in bats, which have evolved fierce immune responses to viruses, researchers have discovered. These defences drive viruses to replicate faster so that they can get past bats’ immune defences. In turn, that transforms the bat into a reservoir of rapidly reproducing and highly transmissible viruses. Then when these bat viruses move into other mammals, creatures that lack a fast-response immune system, the viruses quickly spread into their new hosts. Most evidence suggests that Sars-CoV-2 started infecting humans via an intermediary species, such as pangolins.Bats for sale at a live animal market in Indonesia:
“This virus probably jumped from a bat into another animal, and that other animal was probably near a human, maybe in a market,” says the virologist Prof Edward Holmes of Sydney University. “And so if that wildlife animal has a virus it’s picked up from a bat and we’re interacting with it, there’s a good chance that the virus will then spread to the person handling the animal. Then that person will go home and spread it to someone else and we have an outbreak.”
Mmmm, tasty, eh?
In 2007, America's National Institutes of Health released a report finding there are plenty of coronavirus strains in North America's bat populations.
To determine whether bats in North America also harbor coronaviruses, we used reverse transcription–PCR to detect coronavirus RNA in bats. We found coronavirus RNA in 6 of 28 fecal specimens from bats of 2 of 7 species tested. The prevalence of viral RNA shedding was high: 17% in Eptesicus fuscus and 50% in Myotis occultus. Sequence analysis of a 440-bp amplicon in gene 1b showed that these Rocky Mountain bat coronaviruses formed 3 clusters in phylogenetic group 1 that were distinct from group 1 coronaviruses of Asian bats. Because of the potential for bat coronaviruses to cause disease in humans and animals, further surveillance and characterization of bat coronaviruses in North America are needed.And then there's fungus Histoplasma capsulatum. It's a lung infection that can be caused by walking in bat caves and releasing spores from bat guano. Some believe it's the etymological origin of "bat shit crazy."
The lesson is 1), don't eat bats, and 2), if you see a bat cave don't go stirring up shit.