Are bats ‘special’ in their tendency to harbor zoonotic viruses that infect humans?
Summary: This article examines whether or not bats are unique among animal groups in their tendency to host viruses that infect humans. A recent analysis conducted by scientists at the University of Glasgow, suggests that the risk of viral spillover from wildlife is ‘host-neutral.’ In other words, spillover risk from any one group of wildlife is due to the species richness of that group, not the result of any unique characteristics that members of the group might possess. Other scientists, including WAB-Net scientist Kevin Olival, argue that the analysis (which compares viral richness across orders of animals) omits species-specific information about viral hosts that can influence viral diversity and transmission. Through this narrower lens, it may be argued that bats possess particular traits facilitating their harboring of pathogens that can infect humans. With emerging zoonoses like SARS-CoV-2 increasing in frequency over the past several decades, the question of where to look for these pathogens (i.e. which animal hosts to prioritize for sampling) has become increasingly important.
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