ICMR Researchers Detect Presence Of Coronaviruses In Some Bats Found In India, Try To Find Out If They Can Harm HumansICMR Logo

In a significant development, the researchers at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have detected the presence of coronaviruses (CoVs) among two species of bats in India, stressing the need for continued surveillance of bats to identify the emerging strains of the viruses that can cause future epidemics, reports Hindustan Times.

The development gains significance as a few years ago, Nipah virus disease outbreak in Kerala had also been established to have an association with a species of bats identified as Pteropus medius.

Bats are known to be the natural reservoir for several kinds of viruses, some of which can be of potential harm to humans and cause infections. Some of the pathogenic viruses which bats have been established to be natural reservoirs of include Rabies, Hendra, Nipah and Ebola. Furthermore, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus virus which causes COVID-19 has also been traced to be associated with bats.

However, according to the study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, there is no evidence to suggest that the bat coronaviruses can cause disease in humans.

Bats from the Rousettus and Pteropus species from the four states were found positive. These bat coronaviruses are not related to the SARS-CoV2 which is causing the Covid 19 pandemic.

The Pteropus bat species were earlier found positive for Nipah virus in 2018 and 2019 in Kerala.

"Bats are considered to be the natural reservoir for many viruses, of which some are potential human pathogens. In India, an association of Pteropus medius bats with the Nipah virus was reported in the past. It is suspected that the recently emerged severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) also has its association with bats," the objective of the study titled ''Detection of coronaviruses in Pteropus and Rousettus species of bats from different states of India'' said.

In conclusion, the study showed detection of pathogenic CoVs in two species of Indian bats. Continuous active surveillance is required to identify the emerging novel viruses with epidemic potential.

"There is a need of proactive surveillance of zoonotic infections in bats. Detection and identifications of such aetiological agents will provide leads for the development of diagnostic along with preparedness and readiness to deal with such emergent viruses thereby quickly containing them," the study said.

The detection and identification of such viruses from bats also recommends cross-sectional antibody surveys (human and domestic animals) in localities where the viruses have been detected. Similarly, if epidemiological situation demands, evidence-based surveillance should also be conducted. There is a need of developing strong mechanisms for working jointly with various stakeholders such as wildlife, poultry, animal husbandry and human health departments.

In the present scenario of changing demography and ecological manipulations, it is challenging to have checks on the encounters of bats with other animals and humans. Therefore, active and continuous surveillance remains crucial for outbreak alerts for bat-associated viral agents with epidemic potential, which would be helpful in timely interventions, the study said.

Although CoVs in the subfamily Coronavirinae do not usually produce clinical symptoms in their natural hosts (bats), accidental transmission of these viruses to humans and other animals may result in respiratory, enteric, hepatic or neurologic diseases of variable severity. It is still not understood as to why only certain CoVs can infect people, the study said.

The developments emerge to be vital importance as India is home to over 117 recorded species of bats. The ICMR has so far only conducted tests on two species of bats collected from representative states in India during the years 2018 and 2019.

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