Bats as reservoirs of many viral diseases

In light of the search for the source of origin of the SARS CoV 2, which is causing a global pandemic, scientists are suspecting horseshoe bats.

Diseases that Originated from Bats

Several diseases in the past have been traced back to bats. These are caused by zoonotic viruses- i.e. those that are spread from animals to humans. Some of the examples are Rabies, Marburg, Nipah, Hendra viruses, etc. The 2003 SARS outbreak was suspected to have come from horseshoe bats.

Horseshoe Bats

Bats constitute 1/4th of the mammalian species on earth. Horseshoe bats are small/ medium sized members of the category called microbats. Their name is a reference to the shape of their nose-leaf (structures that helps in echolocation). Some regions in the world (especially in Africa and Asia) use these animals for food and medicine.

Reason for Bats’ Immunity

While bats are major reservoirs of viruses, they themselves are not affected by most of the viruses they carry. Rabies is an exception as it causes disease in bats too. The reason is their strong immune system. When they fly, the high energy requirement causes breakdown of cells and the release of small bits of DNA. Unlike other organisms, their body doesn’t treat these fragments as foreign objects and don’t develop inflammation. Such inflammation would have taken a toll on the energy reservoir of the body.