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Consequences for Humans Sharing Buildings with Bats

Benefits of Sharing a Building with Bats

There are several direct benefits for humans when sharing buildings with synanthropic bats. Bats provide essential ecological services (e.g., pest suppression, pollination, seed dispersal) near houses, villages, and cities (Jones et al. 2009; Kunz et al. 2011; Ghanem and Voigt 2012). For example, synanthropic bats, such as molossids, feed on large quantities of insects that are vectors of human diseases, such as dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya fever (Andrianaivoarivelo et al. 2006; Goodman et al. 2008b). In tropical and subtropical regions, bats are important seed and pollen dispersers. Orchards in house gardens may largely benefit from the cost-free ecosystem services provided by pollinating bats. Insectivorous bats have the ability to reduce insect herbivory in temperate forests (Böhm et al. 2011), tropical forests (Kalka et al. 2008), and tropical agricultural fields (Williams-Guillén et al. 2008; Maas et al. 2013). Thus, the presence of synanthropic bats comes with large, yet mostly unacknowledged, benefits to humans. Lastly, bats are an integral component of our natural heritage, and thus, they have intrinsic value (Soulé 1985).

Pathogen and Parasite Exposure

Viruses Bats inhabiting buildings may be reservoir hosts of viruses. For example, North American Eptesicus fuscus and Eurasian Eptesicus serotinus are both synanthropic species roosting in buildings, and they are known for their relatively high prevalence of rabies (Zorya 2002; O'Shea et al. 2012; Racey et al. 2013). In Dutch populations of Eptesicus serotinus, bats exhibited a 21 % seroprevalence for lyssavirus (Van der Poel et al. 2005), yet is unknown how many of these positive cases were infectious. In another Dutch study, 30 % of sampled bats that bit humans tested positive for European bat lyssaviruses (Takumi et al. 2009). Other synanthropic bat species may carry lyssaviruses, such as the molossid bats Tadarida brasiliensis or Nyctinomops macrotis in North and South America, or vespertilionid bats such as Eptesicus furinalis in South America (Clark et al. 1996; Uieda 1998; Passos et al. 1998; de Almeida et al. 2011; Favi et al. 2012) or nycterid bats such as Nycteris thebaica in Zimbabwe (Foggin 1988). In Kenya, SARSlike coronaviruses (CoVs) were identified in a Chaerephon spp. (Tong et al. 2009), and in South Africa, bat-derived CoVs that are closely related to the MERS-CoV were found in Neoromicia capensis (Corman et al. 2014). Frequent roost switching of synanthropic bats may increase the transmission risk of the rabies virus to humans (Ellison et al. 2007), particularly when humans try to evict bats from houses (Streicker et al. 2013). In general, precautionary measures should be taken when handling synanthropic bats: (1) Do not touch or handle bats without gloved hands, and (2) in case of a bat bite, immediately proceed to the appropriate facility for post-exposure prophylactics. A more detailed treatment of bat-related diseases is provided in Chap. 10 (Schneeberger and Voigt 2016).

Bacteria Bacterial infections are one of the primary causes of natural death in temperate bats (Mühldorfer et al. 2012), and many of the documented bacterial strains are relevant to human health. For example, bats may act as a reservoir for Bartonella/Burkholderia bacteria, which can be transmitted to humans via bed bugs (Saenz et al. 2013). Bat ticks, specifically Argas vespertilionis, collected from a human-inhabited building were documented to carry Borrelia, Rickettisa, and Ehrlichia species (Socolovschi et al. 2012). Staphylococcus nepalensis was detected in guano samples from mixed M. myotis and M. blythii summer roosts, and guano in or near buildings may pose a significant threat to human health (Vandzurova et al. 2013). To our knowledge, no direct infection of humans with bat-related bacterial strains has been described. Overall, synanthropic bats have the potential to transmit zoonotic diseases, yet as outlined by Mühldorfer et al. (2011), there is no evidence, at least for temperate zone bats, that they pose a greater health risk to humans than other wildlife species.

Parasites Besides bat-specific ectoparasites, bats may also carry generalist ectoparasites that could infect humans as well. For example, bed bugs (Cimex spp.) could possibly switch between bat roosts and rooms inhabited by humans (Pearce and O'Shea 2007). Bat ticks have been suggested to cause inflammatory responses in humans living in a building with bats in the attic (Labruna et al. 2014). Ticks associated with bats, and known to bite humans, may also be carriers of bacteria or viruses that can cause disease in humans. For example, Carios kelleyi collected from residential and community buildings in Jackson County, Iowa, tested positive for Rickettsia (Loftis et al. 2005). In addition, some endoparasites are threats to human health, yet many depend on an invertebrate host as a vector for transmission to humans. For example, in Brazil, Leishmania braziliensis occur in some synanthropic bat species that serve as a reservoir host for leishmaniasis but require sand flies as a vector (Shapiro et al. 2013).

Fungus Environments soiled with large accumulations of guano may harbor Histoplasma capsulatum, a fungal pathogen that causes histoplasmosis. When roosts in attics, roofs, and other rooms are not cleaned on a regular basis, guano accumulates creating a greater risk to humans (Bartlett et al. 1982; Martins et al. 2000). Humans can develop histoplasmosis after inhaling the microscopic spores of H. capsulatum, often while participating in activities that disturb a heavily contaminated environment. While histoplasmosis is rarely fatal, infections in individuals with weakened immune systems can become severe (Martins et al. 2000), yet it is questionable that infections by H. capsulatum can be traced back to bats.

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