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Home arrow Environment arrow Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World

Food-Borne Zoonotic Disease Risk from Pteropodid Bats

An additional concern to crop damage caused by pteropodid bats is the potential for zoonotic disease transmission via fruit contaminated with bat excreta (i.e. saliva, urine, faeces). Old World fruit bats are natural reservoirs to a number of such diseases, including several emerging viruses that have limited or no pathogenicity in their bat hosts but high fatality rates in people. These include Ebola viruses (Leroy et al. 2005), Marburg virus (Towner et al. 2009), Nipah virus (Rahman et al. 2013), Hendra virus (Halpin et al. 2000), and lyssaviruses in Australia (Mackenzie et al. 2003) and Thailand (Lumlertdacha et al. 2005). While the transmission pathway for each virus is not always known, there is compelling evidence, in a small number of cases, that points to a food-borne route, most notably multiple spillover events of Nipah virus from Pteropus giganteus to people in Bangladesh (see below). Filoviruses (Ebola and Marburg) are also of great consequence to human health, as evident from the large west Africa outbreak of Zaire Ebola virus that began in early 2014. Much remains unknown about the natural hosts and ecology of filoviruses in bats (Olival and Hayman 2014), but Ebola virus may be transmitted from bats to humans through faeces (Swanepoel et al. 1996), but most likely through direct contact with blood (i.e. preparing hunted bats) (Leroy et al. 2009) or via contact with dead-end host carcasses

(e.g. gorillas) (Leroy et al. 2004). Recent experimental studies have shown that Marburg virus can be excreted in bat saliva, answering important questions about its potential zoonotic spread via the oral route (Amman et al. 2014a). It has been postulated that bats and gorillas may share Ebola virus through contact at shared fruit resources, but this has not been verified and additional research is needed to better understand the ecological connections between bats and other mammal hosts in the transmission of these diseases (Groseth et al. 2007; Olival and Hayman 2014).

Henipaviruses (Hendra and Nipah viruses) are recently emerged paramyxoviruses that originate primarily from Pteropus spp. as their natural reservoir. Transmission of Hendra virus in Australia and Nipah virus in Malaysia from bats to intermediate or amplifying domestic animal hosts (horses and pigs, respectively) likely occurred though consumption of partially chewed fruit contaminated with bat saliva or ingestion of bat urine under bat foraging sites (Field et al. 2001; Chua et al. 2002). Henipaviruses have been shown experimentally to remain viable on the surface of mango and in other tropical fruit juices (lychee and papaya) from 2 h to 2 days depending on temperature and pH (Fogarty et al. 2008). Similarly, Chua et al. (2002) successfully isolated Nipah virus from a fruit in the wild that was partially eaten by P. hypomelanus. Thus, the risk of oral transmission of henipaviruses to humans via consumption of partially chewed fruit exists, although it is likely to be low. However, direct transmission of Nipah virus from bats to people occurs in Bangladesh nearly every year through the consumption of date palm sap, presumably contaminated with urine, saliva or faeces from infected P. giganteus (Luby et al. 2006; Rahman et al. 2012). Preventive measures are being used to block bats' access to date palm sap collection pots and reduce the risk of Nipah virus transmission (Nahar et al. 2010). Other mitigation measures that reduce the overall damage of crops by pteropodid bats will further mitigate any risk, however small, of zoonotic disease transmission via this route. Culling bat populations as a form of disease control is rarely effective and often has the opposite effect of increasing transmission and risk. This was recently demonstrated during an attempt to eradicate a population of R. aegyptiacus as a form of Marburg virus control, where prevalence of the virus significantly increased after the cull (Amman et al. 2014b). Additional approaches to reducing bat–human contact at potential disease interfaces should be developed, and disease mitigation should be carried out in a way that reduces risk without impacting bat populations.

 
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