Spectacled flying foxes (pictured left) are one of several bat species in Australia that carry a rabies-like virus called Australian bat lyssavirus (right). The virus is zoonotic, meaning it can jump between species, and it has passed to humans – with fatal consequences – on three occasions. Recent research has shown that bats host more zoonotic viruses per species than rodents, which are known as rich reservoirs of viral pathogens. Horseshoe bats carry coronaviruses, for example, and several African fruit bats carry Ebola. The list could go on. So what makes bats such favoured hosts? Researchers think it's because they live in huge colonies, making it easy for viruses to spread within a species, and they can fly, which facilitates the distribution of viruses over great distances. Such insights could help scientists to predict as-yet-unknown reservoirs for viruses that can 'spillover' to humans, usually via domesticated animals, and cause devastating outbreaks.
Written by Daniel Cossins
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