Jul 20, 2022 - News

Austin's bats can catch COVID

A Mexican free-tailed bat. Photo: Ernest Valdez, USGS

Those tittering bats who hang out beneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge can catch COVID, per a new federal study.

Why it matters: Learning how COVID interacts with wild species illuminates the virus' ability to adapt genetically to new hosts and become more virulent.

About 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats roost beneath downtown's Ann W, Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, and tourists flock there around sunset to see the bats fly out to grab some insect dinner.

Details: Scientists with the United States Geological Survey monitored 10 captive Mexican free-tailed bats that were exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, for infection and potential bat-to-bat transmission.

  • Five of the bats became infected with the virus and tested positive for 6-18 days.

Yes, but: Mexican free-tailed bats infected with COVID don't appear to spread the disease or become sick.

Between the lines: A press release notes the study was conducted "in a contained laboratory setting under biosafety level 3 conditions" — which is exactly the kind of thing you write when you're worried about blowback involving a deadly, movie-plague-worthy, animal-to-human disease.

What they're saying: "Studying infectious diseases in humans as well as wildlife is critically important, because people and animals are tightly interconnected through our shared environments," Jonathan Sleeman, director of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, said. "Our well-being depends on the health of living things around us."


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