The importance of bats and diseases

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The COVID-19 outbreak was due to SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

There are many different kinds of coronaviruses that can infect humans. Some of them can cause colds or other mild respiratory diseases. However, others can cause more serious diseases such as COVID-19, acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Usually, some animal species serves as a reservoir for the virus before it becomes infective to humans and causes a new disease. Bats are known to harbor many types of viruses, including coronaviruses, without becoming ill themselves. Research has suggested that a bat's immune system is very well adapted to tolerate many virus types. This may be due to their ability to limit inflammation.

With the COVID-19 pandemic having been such a big problem to humankind, researchers around the world have taken great interest in wild bat populations. This interest is in order to study how a new coronavirus might become infective and dangerous to humans. It also allows scientists to look for any potentially dangerous coronaviruses that might be lurking in some wild bat population.

However, bats play a vital role in the ecosystems of the world, and we can not just eliminate them in order to get rid of a possible coronavirus reservoir. They are important pollinators and spread many types of plant seeds.

Bats require large amounts of food. Insect eating bats often eat 50% or more of their body weight in insects each night. This includes some of the most damaging agricultural pests as well as insects that can carry human diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. The vast majority of disease spillover from bats to humans is due to human behavior and activity that is mostly tied to expanding populations and economics. Therefore, it is important that we learn to live with bats and not without them.

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