Detection and phylogenetic characterization of astroviruses in insectivorous bats from Central-Southern Italy.
In recent years, bats have been found to harbour many viruses, raising several questions about their role as reservoirs and potential disseminators of zoonotic viruses. We investigated the presence of six virus families in bats in three regions of Central-Southern Italy. Astroviruses were identified in seven of 13 bat species. Sequence analysis revealed marked genetic heterogeneity among the astroviruses identified, with nucleotide identity ranging between 60.26% and 87.62%. Astrovirus diversity was not associated with the bat species, the geographic areas or the bat colony, suggesting the circulation of several astrovirus strains in Italian ecosystems. Genetic diversification and interspecies transmission appear common in bat astroviruses and could provide, potentially, the bases for transmission to humans and other mammals. Yet overemphasizing this risk might have detrimental consequences for bat conservation and preservation of the important ecosystem services bats provide.