Analyzing risk of SARS-CoV-2 ‘spillback’ into North American bats
A paper recently published in PLOS Pathogens, highlights the risk of reverse zoonotic transmission (or ‘spillback’) of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to free-ranging bats in North America. This publication was led by Dr. Kevin Olival of WAB-Net, with assistance from fellow WAB-Net members (Dr. Jon Epstein, Dr. Kendra Phelps, Dr. William Karesh, and Dr. Tigga Kingston) among other authors.
Abstract: “The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the substantial public health, economic, and societal consequences of virus spillover from a wildlife reservoir. Widespread human transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) also presents a new set of challenges when considering viral spillover from people to naïve wildlife and other animal populations. The establishment of new wildlife reservoirs for SARS-CoV-2 would further complicate public health control measures and could lead to wildlife health and conservation impacts. Given the likely bat origin of SARS-CoV-2 and related beta-coronaviruses (β-CoVs), free-ranging bats are a key group of concern for spillover from humans back to wildlife. Here, we review the diversity and natural host range of β-CoVs in bats and examine the risk of humans inadvertently infecting free-ranging bats with SARS-CoV-2. Our review of the global distribution and host range of β-CoV evolutionary lineages suggests that 40+ species of temperate-zone North American bats could be immunologically naïve and susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2. We highlight an urgent need to proactively connect the wellbeing of human and wildlife health during the current pandemic and to implement new tools to continue wildlife research while avoiding potentially severe health and conservation impacts of SARS-CoV-2 “spilling back” into free-ranging bat populations.”