By Merlin Tuttle
The series Curious Kids, hosted by The Conversation, is designed to provide expert answers to questions asked by children from around the world. The December 16 edition, “Curious Kids: why do bats pass diseases to humans” is filled with media-driven disinformation that harms both the credibility of science and conservation efforts for bats, while doing nothing to dispel unfounded fear.
The question, “why do bats pass deadly diseases like Ebola to humans,” is proposed under the assumption that bats carry more diseases than other animals. Early in the article, the author states “Bats are both more likely than other animals to have a wide variety of diseases like Ebola, rabies, and coronaviruses and more likely to pass them on to us.”
This assumption is based on one of the most cited studies that wrongly accuses bats of hosting more viruses than other mammals, wherein the authors surveyed twice as many bats as all other mammals combined. Because new viruses can be found wherever we look, it is not surprising to find more in the animals that are predominately searched. More inclusive research concluded that bats do not harbor more viruses than other animals, though it has been mostly ignored by those seeking media attention.
In fact, despite relentless searching and endless speculation, SARS-CoV-2, SARS, MERS, and Ebola viruses have not been found in a bat, nor is there documentation of transmission from a bat to a human. The record of unsubstantiated speculation attributing Ebola to bats is long, despite the earliest outbreaks being traced to the consumption of chimpanzees and gorillas, not bats. Recent research indicates that Ebola has been endemic in humans over long periods of time, possibly across generations, and that such evidence has been repeatedly ignored in a rush to blame bats.
In truth, bats have one of our planet’s finest records of living safely with humans. In Austin, Texas, the spectacular evening emergence of 1.5 million bats has become a world-famous tourist attraction, and no one has been harmed. Dire warnings of disease from bats come from those who profit from fear. For anyone who simply doesn’t attempt to handle bats, the odds of contracting a disease from one are extremely remote!
Children need to learn to appreciate, value, and live safely with nature, not fear it.