Why do Bats Transmit so Many Diseases like Ebola?

Posted on August 13, 2014  Comments (0)

Bats are generally wonderful creatures and helpful to us. For example, they eat lots of insects that are annoying (like mosquitoes) and pollinate lots of plants. Of course, they also eat lots of good (for us humans) insects but the insects still seem to be able to fulfill their environmental niches so all is good.

And they are flying mammals which is, of course, cool.

But bats also transmit virus to us, which do us lots of damage. As the video explains as we have intruded into bat territory and chopped down their natural feeding spots we have come into contact with them more. And because bats evolved to be very resilient to virus and they live in large colonies (for easy transmission of the viruses to lots of bats) they can host viruses and survive long enough to infect lots of other bats, and to infect us if we meet them.

I actually didn’t know this (mentioned in the video): most viruses have a very difficult time surviving even with temperatures a bit above the normal human temperature (98 degrees Fahrenheit). Bats, while they fly, have internal temperatures that soar to 104 degrees (40 degrees centigrade) which kills off most viruses, but certain hardy viruses survive. This also explains why we run fevers when we are sick (which then can kill off viruses) – which I am sure I learned at some point but I forgot. But for the bat viruses that strategy doesn’t work.

Bats, of course, are not impervious to disease. In the USA a disease has killed more than 90 percent of the cave bats in Eastern states.

One of the causes of the current ebola outbreak is believed to be people eating bats in West Africa.

Related: Ebola Outbreak in Uganda (2007)A Breakthrough Cure for Ebola (2010)Swine Flu: a Quick Overview (2009)


I think the CDC is a great resource overall. I do not like that they say it is not possible to get ebola through food in big shiny web graphics and then also say it is transmitted via infected meat. I believe infected bats being eaten is suspected as a transmission factor (I would guess the CDC is trying to say cooked bats wouldn’t be infected because cooking will kill the virus but handling the meat before it is cooked might transmit ebola – I am only guessing). I don’t think they should be so categorical about food being safe given the risks. But really they should know much more than me, so maybe I am the one wrong about this situation.

UN warns of fruit bat risk in West African Ebola epidemic

Increased efforts are needed to improve awareness among rural communities in West Africa about the risks of contracting the Ebola virus from eating certain wildlife species including fruit bats, FAO warned today (21 July, 2014).

Though the UN seems to disagree with the CDC’s claims about food safety related to ebola.

“We are not suggesting that people stop hunting altogether, which isn’t realistic,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth. “But communities need clear advice on the need not to touch dead animals or to sell or eat the meat of any animal that they find already dead. They should also avoid hunting animals that are sick or behaving strangely, as this is another red flag.”

Fruit bats – usually eaten dried or in a spicy soup – are thought to be the most likely reservoir species for the virus, which they can carry without developing clinical signs of the disease, and should be avoided altogether, according to FAO.

“The virus is killed when meat is cooked at a high temperature or heavily smoked, but anyone who handles, skins or butchers an infected wild animal is at risk of contracting the virus,” Lubroth said.

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