According to a recent study, preventing future pandemics requires a global consensus to refrain from disturbing bats and their natural habitats, as they serve as reservoirs for various viruses that can infect humans. The study emphasizes the cost-effectiveness of changing human behavior towards bats and highlights the vital ecosystem services they provide, such as controlling harmful insects and pollinating crops.
A research article published in The Lancet Planetary Health calls for a universal agreement to avoid disturbing bats and their habitats as a crucial measure in pandemic prevention.
Bats have been identified as the source of viruses responsible for both the 2003 SARS coronavirus outbreak and the COVID-19 pandemic. While it remains uncertain whether transmission occurred through direct contact with an infected bat, exposure to bat bodily fluids in caves, or via another animal infected by a bat, the exact details may never be fully known.
Even in the case of a virus accidentally released from a laboratory, its origin can be traced back to bats. However, understanding all the specifics is not necessary for taking action.
Bats are known to carry a wide range of viruses that can infect other species, including humans. They are sources of rabies, Marburg filoviruses, Hendra and Nipah paramyxoviruses, as well as coronaviruses like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) Coronavirus. Fruit bats are also strongly believed to be a source of Ebolaviruses.
To prevent future pandemics, a global consensus is needed to protect bats and their habitats, allowing them to thrive undisturbed. This involves refraining from fearing bats, chasing them away, or culling them, as such actions only disperse them and increase the risk of zoonotic spillover. Instead, it is essential to let them have the habitats they need and coexist peacefully.
The authors stress the importance of taking upstream preventive measures to reduce the risk of dangerous viruses spilling over from animals to humans. They call for a change in humanity’s relationship with nature, specifically wildlife and bats, as the cost of implementing these behavioral changes is insignificant compared to the potential devastation of another global pandemic.
Dr. Susan Lieberman, WCS’s Vice President for International Policy, highlights the need to acknowledge humanity’s interconnectedness with wildlife and ecosystems in a globalized world. To prevent future zoonotic pandemics, starting with preserving bats is crucial.
Professor Steven A. Osofsky, lead author of the study and a Cornell Professor of Wildlife Health & Health Policy, points out that collaborative global action is essential to address various existential challenges, including pandemics, climate change, environmental pollution, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem collapse. He emphasizes that by avoiding hunting, eating, and trading bats, staying away from their caves, and preserving their natural habitats, the chances of another pandemic can be significantly reduced.
The study’s authors underline that preserving bats will not only help prevent pandemics but also provide immense benefits through the ecosystem services they offer, such as mosquito control and pollination of important crops. Respecting bats and their habitats is a fundamental step towards genuine upstream pandemic prevention, and it carries an important message even after the third anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reference: “An immediate way to lower pandemic risk: (not) seizing the low-hanging fruit (bat)” by Steven A Osofsky, Susan Lieberman, Christian Walzer, Helen L Lee, and Laurel A Neme, 5 June 2023, The Lancet Planetary Health. DOI: 10.1016/S2542-5196(23)00077-3
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Pandemic prevention
Q: What does the study suggest regarding pandemic prevention and bats?
A: The study suggests that pandemic prevention requires a global consensus to leave bats and their habitats undisturbed, as they serve as reservoirs for viruses that can infect humans.
Q: Why is preserving bats and their habitats important in preventing pandemics?
A: Preserving bats and their habitats is crucial as bats are known to carry a wide range of viruses, making them potential sources of zoonotic spillover events, leading to pandemics like SARS and COVID-19.
A: To prevent future pandemics, humanity should refrain from disturbing bats or their habitats, avoid hunting or trading bats, keep livestock away from bat-concentrated areas, and work towards preserving their natural habitats.
Q: How can global collaboration help in pandemic prevention?
A: Collaborative global action is essential to address existential challenges, including pandemics, climate change, and biodiversity loss. By working together, we can effectively lower the chances of another pandemic.
Q: What benefits do bats provide through their ecosystem services?
A: Bats offer significant ecosystem services, including controlling harmful insects like mosquitos and pollinating various important crops, which contributes to the overall ecological balance.
Q: Why should humanity change its relationship with nature, particularly bats?
A: Changing the relationship with nature, including respecting bats and their habitats, is vital to prevent future zoonotic pandemics and safeguard global health and ecosystems.
More about Pandemic prevention
- The Lancet Planetary Health: An immediate way to lower pandemic risk: (not) seizing the low-hanging fruit (bat)