Bats are some of the most infamous carriers of zoonotic viruses, which are viruses capable of spreading between both animals and humans. Bats are known carriers of more than 60 different types of viruses, which consequently makes the animals superhosts. Common viruses that bats carry include, but aren’t limited to: MERS, SARS, and Ebola, just to name a few. Moreover, bats are known to harbor up to two different viruses at a time on average.
You might be wondering why this is so important, and as it turns out, some scientists believe that bats could similarly be carriers for the novel coronavirus. Humans wouldn’t need to have direct contact with bats to contract such a virus, as intermediate methods of transmission can also spread it along rather effectively, as we’ve witnessed time and time again with many bat-centric viruses.
The fact that bats harbor so many different viruses also raises another rather interesting question: how is it that bats themselves appear to be so immune to their own diseases?
Answering this question is a challenge, but the highly elusive answer could lie in the bats’ airborne lifestyle. Scientists think that the bats’ continuous wingbeats cause their bodies to behave differently than ours, impacting their immune systems in the process. If humans sported wings that they could beat hundreds of times per minute, we’d experience side-effects like inflammation and an over-baked immune response that could potentially result in disease.
Bats are believed to exhibit inflammation as well, although their bodies have adapted a dampened immune response capable of dealing with the wingbeat-related inflammation. Their immune systems don’t respond as heavily to their inflammation as ours would, and so their bodies’ natural anti-viral systems can use more resources searching for and handling viral infections, therefore keeping diseases at bay more easily.
To clarify, these viruses are still just as contagious, and given bats’ social behaviors, they spread viruses among one another relatively often. To make matters worse, bats fly a lot over long distances, carrying those viruses across wide geographic areas and potentially infecting others along the way. Moreover, humans have a rather annoying tendency to interact with wild animals, which further exacerbates the process.
So there you have it… their bodies are simply good at protecting themselves.