Why Are Viruses that Start in Bats so Deadly?

A new study from the University of California at Berkeley details why viruses that originate in bats are are so deadly. The study focuses on the recent Coronavirus but also speaks to the SARS, MERS, Ebola, and Marburg viruses — all of which developed in bats.

The study finds “that bats’ fierce immune response to viruses could drive viruses to replicate faster, so that when they jump to mammals with average immune systems, such as humans, the viruses wreak deadly havoc,” according to UCBerkeley News.

“Some bats are able to mount this robust antiviral response, but also balance it with an anti-inflammation response,” said Cara Brook, a postdoctoral Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley and the first author of the study. “Our immune system would generate widespread inflammation if attempting this same antiviral strategy. But bats appear uniquely suited to avoiding the threat of immunopathology.”

 

The researchers note that disrupting bat habitat appears to stress the animals and makes them shed even more virus in their saliva, urine and feces that can infect other animals.

“The bottom line is that bats are potentially special when it comes to hosting viruses,” said Mike Boots, a disease ecologist and UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. “It is not random that a lot of these viruses are coming from bats. Bats are not even that closely related to us, so we would not expect them to host many human viruses. But this work demonstrates how bat immune systems could drive the virulence that overcomes this.”

 

 

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