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Find the latest information on the Coronavirus outbreak in Utah, including public health measures, contact information, news updates, and more.

Zoonosis, Bats, And COVID-19: A Green Thumb Commentary

A medical mask and latex examination gloves

At the time this commentary was prepared, media reports had traced the cause of the outbreak back to  Horseshoe bats.

There are literally hundreds of genetically diverse bat-borne viruses in the world. Most of them are harmless, except for the group that was responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2003. Because of the global distribution of bats, the rich diversity, and the importance of bats has natural reservoirs of viruses, the number of bat viruses with the potential for transmission to humans will likely increase but bats are not the problem. Bats help promote biodiversity by eating insects and pollinating plants. A problem surfaces when humans come into contact with infected bats.

COVID-19 is a zoonosis. A zoonosis is a disease that can be transmitted to humans from animals. Zoonoses have affected human health throughout history and wildlife have played a central role. Prior to COVID-19, bubonic plague was probably the best-known example of a zoonosis. In 2001, a catalogue identified over 1400 known human pathogens, of which most were zoonotic in origin. Most emerging infectious diseases in humans are considered zoonosis.

Arguably, the recent COVID-19 pandemic is one of the worst zoonoses in decades. Because of its uncertain effects on global society and economies, public education and behavioral change are critical to successful disease intervention. Implementing restrictions on human movement of animals is another important preventative measure. The answer will depend on whether professionals can successfully manage wildlife zoonoses and communicate the associated risk to society in a way that promotes for healthy wildlife rather than calls for eliminating wildlife because they are viewed as disease-carrying pests.

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- Terry Messmer Utah State University Extension Wildlife Specialist