Risks posed by SARS-CoV-2 to North American bats during winter fieldwork

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Abstract

The virus that causes COVID-19 likely evolved in a mammalian host, possibly Old-World bats, before adapting to humans, raising the question of whether reverse zoonotic transmission to bats is possible. Wildlife management agencies in North America are concerned that the activities they authorize could lead to transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to bats from humans. A rapid risk assessment conducted in April 2020 suggested that there was a small but significant possibility that SARS-CoV-2 could be transmitted from humans to bats during summer fieldwork, absent precautions. Subsequent challenge studies in a laboratory setting have shed new information on these risks, as has more detailed information on human epidemiology and transmission. This inquiry focuses on the risk to bats from winter fieldwork, specifically surveys of winter roosts and handling of bats to test for white-nose syndrome or other research needs. We use an aerosol transmission model, with parameter estimates both from the literature and from formal expert judgment, to estimate the risk to three species of North American bats, as a function of several factors. We find that risks of transmission are lower than in the previous assessment and are notably affected by chamber volume and local prevalence of COVID-19. Use of facemasks with high filtration efficiency or a negative COVID-19 test before field surveys can reduce zoonotic risk by 65 to 88%.

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Cook, J. D., Grant, E. H. C., Coleman, J. T. H., Sleeman, J. M., & Runge, M. C. (2021). Risks posed by SARS-CoV-2 to North American bats during winter fieldwork. Conservation Science and Practice, 3(6). https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.410

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