What do you do when fruit bats start spreading a deadly virus in rural populations of developing nations that kills in more than 70 percent of cases and has no cure nor vaccine? The immediate answer might be to kill all the fruit bats. No bats equals no viral spread.
But you might also consider planting some trees.
After going door-to-door in affected areas of Bangladesh, using GPS-assisted data collection and satellite remote sensing, researchers noticed a glaring trend; people who lived in deforested areas were the only ones getting sick.
In areas with a lot of trees and thus a lot of fruit, the fruit bats didn’t need to find their food in human villages. Thus if they’re not flying around the villages, they’re not defecating into common sap collection jars and other food-gathering tools.
First of all, gross. Aren’t you glad you live in a place where you don’t have to worry about bats shitting in your food? And second of all, goddamnitthatsgross.
“The immediate reaction may be to get rid of the bats,” said Micah Hahn, who received her joint PhD in epidemiology and environment and resources from the University of Wisconsin, and is now working on a joint post-doctoral fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control in Fort Collins, Colo. and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., “so we won’t have Nipah virus, but bats are important as seed spreaders for forest regeneration, they eat a lot of different fruits and fly long distances. The presence of bats alone is not a risk factor; there are villages with bats but that haven’t had Nipah virus cases. This is not just about having bats, the disease risk is a result of humans changing the landscape in ways that create opportunities for human-wildlife interactions.”
The study, “The Role of Landscape Composition and Configuration on Pteropus giganteus Roosting Ecology and Nipah Virus Spillover Risk in Bangladesh,” was published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene by first author Hahn.