Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

The risk from SARS-CoV-2 to bat species in England and mitigation options for conservation field workers.

Abstract

The newly evolved coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which has precipitated a global COVID-19 pandemic among the human population, has been shown to be associated with disease in captive wild animals. Bats (Chiroptera) have been shown to be susceptible to experimental infection and therefore may be at risk from disease when in contact with infected people. Numerous conservation fieldwork activities are undertaken across the United Kingdom bringing potentially infected people into close proximity with bats. In this study, we analysed the risks of disease from SARS-CoV-2 to free-living bat species in England through fieldworkers undertaking conservation activities and ecological survey work, using a qualitative, transparent method devised for assessing threats of disease to free-living wild animals. The probability of exposure of bats to SARS-CoV-2 through fieldwork activities was estimated to range from negligible to high, depending on the proximity between bats and people during the activity. The likelihood of infection after exposure was estimated to be high and the probability of dissemination of the virus through bat populations medium. The likelihood of clinical disease occurring in infected bats was low, and therefore, the ecological, economic and environmental consequences were predicted to be low. The overall risk estimation was low, and therefore, mitigation measures are advisable. There is uncertainty in the pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 in bats and therefore in the risk estimation. Disease risk management measures are suggested, including the use of personal protective equipment, good hand hygiene and following the existing government advice. The disease risk analysis should be updated as information on the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses in bats improves. The re-analysis may be informed by health surveillance of free-living bats.