Coronavirus on the Loose: Should Public Health Professionals be Concerned About Bats

Medical | Stephen A. Berger, M.D.| February 11, 2020

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Bats are among the prime suspects of the deadly coronavirus (2019-nCoV) causing havoc in China. GIDEON takes a closer look at bat-transmitted diseases.

As we are witnessing the emergence of another coronavirus, health authorities are working to determine which animal was the original host of the pathogen 2019-nCoV. Bats are, once again, among the prime suspects.

On November 16, 2002, horseshoe bats started the epidemic of SARS – a deadly coronavirus that took 916 lives worldwide. This happened in Foshan City, Guangdong, about 1000km away from Wuhan, the epicenter of the latest outbreak.

Proximity is not a coincidence. Pathogens Tylonycteris HKU4 and Pipistrellus HKU5, linked to the MERS-CoV pandemic, were also initially found in bats in China back in 2006.

Due to the natural distribution of bats within mainland China, and the astonishing diversity of coronaviruses in bats, it is unsurprising we see this type of infection originate from this locale. The latest research suggests it is highly likely the next coronavirus will cross over to humans in a similar manner and we should devote more time to the investigation of CoVs in bats.

The latest research suggests it is highly likely the next coronavirus will cross over to humans in a similar manner and we should devote more time to the investigation of CoVs in bats.

Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Network (GIDEON) lists eighteen infectious diseases that are known to be transmitted by bats. Two of these –SARS and MERS – are forms of pneumonia caused by coronaviruses - similar to the agent currently causing havoc in China. Few realize that bats are also a major source for rabies and related infections in the United States, South America, Europe, and even Australia, and also play a role in the transmission of Ebola and Marburg virus diseases in Africa.

Some of these diseases are acquired through the bites of bats, while others follow the ingestion of fruit juices contaminated by the excretions of these animals. In many cases, humans can be infected as easily as by inhaling contaminated air in closed areas. One such disease, histoplasmosis, is commonly acquired while exploring bat caves in Latin America.

The content for this post was created with the use of GIDEON (Global Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Network). GIDEON is the premier global infectious disease database, providing a current, evidence-based resource for diagnosis, treatment and teaching in the fields of tropical and infectious diseases, epidemiology and microbiology.

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Stephen A. Berger, M.D.
Co-Founder, GIDEON Informatics

Stephen A. Berger, M.D. is affiliated with the Tel Aviv Medical Center, where he has served as Director of both Geographic Medicine and of Clinical Microbiology. He also holds an appointment as Emeritus Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Tel-Aviv School of Medicine.

Dr. Berger co-founded GIDEON Informatics, developers of the GIDEON (Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Network) web app and the GIDEON series of ebooks.

He received his B.A. from Brooklyn College in New York and M.D. from New York Medical College. Following Internal Medicine residency training at the New York Medical College Hospitals, he served as a Medical Officer in the U.S. Navy 6th Fleet and St. Albans Hospital. He subsequently completed fellowships in Infectious Diseases at the Montefiore / Einstein complex in New York, Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, and the New York V-A Hospital; Clinical Microbiology at Montefiore Hospital; and Operational Methods as a W.H.O. trainee in Brussels, Belgium. He is board certified in Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a recipient of the Certificate of Knowledge in Clinical Tropical Medicine from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Dr. Berger has published a series of 424 e-books (120,000 pages) on Geographic Medicine, in addition to 180 standard books and professional papers. He is regarded as one of the foremost experts in his field and continues to write and lecture widely in the fields of Infectious Diseases, Clinical Microbiology, Geographic Medicine and Computer Expert Technology.

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