PerspectiveViewpoint: COVID-19

Contextualizing bats as viral reservoirs

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Science  09 Oct 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6513, pp. 172-173
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd4559

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Summary

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the latest in a distressing tally of viral infections—including Ebola, Nipah, rabies, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)—that have evolutionary origins or epidemiological associations with bats. This seeming preponderance of zoonoses has propelled bats from biomedical obscurity to the forefront of global health. Immunological traits have been proposed to allow bats to control viruses differently from other animals. However, incomplete baselines for broader comparisons across vertebrates and extensive immunological variation among bat species casts uncertainty on their distinctiveness as viral reservoirs. Moreover, common perceptions that bats asymptomatically harbor viruses more often than other animals and that their viruses are more diverse or pose systematically heightened zoonotic risk remain unresolved. The search for answers may inspire new approaches to manage disease threats to human and animal health.

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