Information bulletin on bats in BC, COVID-19, and WNS

The BC Community Bat Program aims to share current, accurate information about bats in BC, and issues around bat and human health. Our program strives to educate people about bats and dispel misinformation that may lead to persecution of bats. We are not public health experts or virologists; our information comes from the sources cited below.

BC bats and COVID-19 1,2

  • Bats in BC do not have or spread SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans). SARS-CoV-2 is not found in North American bat species at present.
  • Transmission of COVID-19 is from humans to other humans
  • There are theoretical concerns about the possibility for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to bats. There is no evidence at this time that North American bat species can be infected with SARS-CoV-2; however, the data is extremely sparse, so out of an abundance of caution, until we know more, precautions to minimize the chance of North American bats of being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 are being taken. This is not unique to bats - there are also concerns of possible transmission from humans to other wildlife species, particularly mustelids, felids and canids.3
  • Research is underway to investigate if transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to bats is possible and the potential consequences of a transmission event.
  • Avoid handling live bats and any wildlife. If handling live bats cannot be avoided, follow recommendations about PPE to prevent spread of respiratory droplets – a face mask, thick gloves, etc.
  • The concern is transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to bats, not vice versa, so handling dead bats is fine as long as the normal precautions to prevent rabies exposure are followed.

Bat conservation and COVID-19 1,2

  • It is important that bats and bat habitat are not be destroyed because of unfounded fears over coronavirus transmission
  • Many bat species have adapted to urban and rural environments, where they coexist safely with people. Ask us about living with bats safely.
  • Bats in BC are in trouble from habitat loss and white-nose syndrome - half of our 15 BC species are currently ’at-risk’.
  • Bats are essential to our BC ecosystems and economy. In the US, bats are estimated to provide 23 billion USD of natural pest control each year.
  • Killing bats would not have any effect on the spread of COVID-19, but would negatively affect bat populations, conservation efforts, and our economy.

White-nose syndrome surveillance in BC

White-nose syndrome (WNS) continues to spread in Washington State and is expected to arrive in BC in the near future. Early detection of this fungal disease in BC will help direct research and management actions. Please help with surveillance.

  • Continue to report any dead bats to info@bcbats.ca or at bcbats.ca
  • Monitor roost sites at a distance for returning bats and report any carcasses in the vicinity of a roost

Current Knowledge of SARS-CoV-2 and bats

  • A horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus affinis) origin has been suggested as a possible origin based on 96.2% similarity in the sequence of a coronavirus (BatCoV RaTG13) isolated from this species and SARS-CoV-2 4. Based on the relatively low homology it is considered more likely that the virus passed through an intermediate host rather than jumping directly from bats to humans. Several intermediate hosts have been suggested, but conclusive evidence is lacking5.
  • Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) (n=9), a megabat species, that were intranasally inoculated with SARS-CoV-2 became infected, but did not show any symptoms of disease and did not infect their fellow animals efficiently. Viral RNA was found in nasal epithelium of 1/3 in-contact bats6.
  • Cell lines developed from Big Brown Bats do not have the receptors for SARS-CoV-2 and are not susceptible to infection. However, cell lines represent a particular cell type and may have no relevance to cells in tissues that play important roles in viral transmission 7.
  • No available data yet on the susceptibility of other North American bat species to infection by SARS-CoV-2.

Information sources

  1. BirdLife International. Important update: bats do not spread COVID-19. Accessed Apr 15, 2020 <http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/important-update-bats-do-not-spread-covid-19?fbclid=IwAR0LFpsuoc5qo92a9FhkIuRtHAB7PfHOrbNUuZZ_eOg-7elpR5FuuBwZHu4>
  2. Bat Conservation International. BCI’s FAQ on bats, coronaviruses and zoonotic disease. Accessed Apr 15, 2020 <http://www.batcon.org/resources/media-education/news-room/gen-news/80-latest-news/1227-bci-s-faq-on-bats-coronaviruses-and-zoonotic-disease>\
  3. Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Voluntary Interim Guidance for bat-related activities in response to COVID-19. Version 1.0 (April 13, 2020).
  4. Zhou, P., Yang, X., Wang, X. et al. A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin. Nature 579, 270–273 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2012-7
  5. Xu J, Zhao S, Teng T, Abdalla AE, Zhu W, Xie L, Wang Y, Guo X. Systematic Comparison of Two Animal-to-Human Transmitted Human Coronaviruses: SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV. Viruses. 2020 Feb 22;12(2). pii: E244. doi: 10.3390/v12020244.
  6. Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut; unpublished data. https://www.fli.de/en/press/press-releases/press-singleview/novel-coronavirus-sars-cov-2-fruit-bats-and-ferrets-are-susceptible-pigs-and-chickens-are-not/
  7. Misra V. pers comm. 2020

BC Bat Action Plan

2016 - 2020 Action Plan

In Response to the Threat of White-nose Syndrome

One of the key goals of the WNS Action Plan is to bring awareness to BC citizens and governments of the urgency and imminence of this disease, and the cascading ecological and economic ramifications that may follow if nothing is done to address this unprecedented wildlife crisis. While motivated by the threat of WNS, there are many other threats that bats face, and there are large knowledge gaps that constrain effective conservation of most species. Given the limited opportunity to directly treat WNS infected bats, it is likely that reducing other threats to bats, enhancing habitats, and filling knowledge gaps for future recovery efforts will play a large role in this province’s WNS strategy.

  • In total there are 84 actions listed in this Action Plan, 39 of which have been identified as high (Essential) priority. The main category with the largest number of actions (34) is “Capacity Building” which includes actions for promoting bat conservation.
  • Actions are listed as Level I, II, and III (with Level I being the highest priority) according to the weightings provided by members during the Chase meeting. Actions within each level are generally listed in no particular order, and are grouped according to topic.

BC Bat Action Plan

Conservation of BC Bats and Facts About Coronavirus

Feb 6, 2020

  • Human health is intertwined with wildlife and environmental health. 
  • Bat populations are declining and bat conservation is important. 
  • Consider all the facts before becoming afraid.  Stop the persecution of bats. 

To get your facts straight, please follow these links:  

Research on bats, bat ecology, bat immunology, and bat virology is ongoing and important. For example, medicine is being developed based on bat saliva, to help stroke and heart disease victims.  

Photo: Townsend’s Big-eared Bat. Sunshine Coast Wildlife Project.

Bat Houses - Best Management Practices

In response to concerns about the conservation value of bat boxes in BC, and how to best use boxes to benefit bats, the BC Community Bat Program has created a new guidance document. Best Management Practices for Bat Boxes in BC summarizes current thinking on how best to deploy artificial roost structures to help bats, as well as information on construction, installation, and maintenance and monitoring.

Bat Box BMPS (Best Management Practices for Bat Boxes)