Hyderabad: They are in thousands. And nobody really knows if they are flying foxes or fruit bats, they are large, rusty and black creatures, common in the city and can be seen in many places including the Telangana High Court compound hanging on to the trees and building eaves, and they could be carrying many diseases. They pose the threat of carrying infectious diseases like SARS, MERS or the latest potentially global threat, the novel Coronavirus that began in Wuhan in China and has spread to at least three more countries.
The real danger is that when humans come into direct contact with the bats that might be carrying a disease causing organism, according to Dr C Srinivasulu, member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Bat Specialist Group. When the NIPAH outbreak occurred in Kerala last year, the Government of India had the National Institute of Virology(NIV), Pune, collect bats from various parts of the country to study the presence of disease causing viruses in them, Dr Srinivasulu told Deccan Chronicle.
Within Hyderabad or Telangana, itself, no study has ever been done to examine bats as disease causing creatures.
Dr Srinivasulu said the high risk groups for any infection from bats would be those who hunt them for food, or happen to be exposed to an infected bat’s saliva or droppings. People might come into contact when these fall on them or in their food when they eat sting under a tree on which infected bats might be roosting.
But so far, we have had no evidence of bats of this region causing disease. I have witnessed people hunting them and eating bat meat in Bolarum area in the past but this practice stopped after the Nipah outbreak, Dr Srinivasulu said.
Interestingly, last year, the then Chief Justice of the High Court issued instructions in the wake of Nipah cases in Kerala, to the Telangana forest department to translocate the bats from the High Court premises because of their potential to spread dangerous diseases among humans. However, the move was set aside after the court officials were informed that the bats, which made the court premises their homes, are probably not disease carrying as no cases of any disease were reported from court employees or others frequenting the premises.
This conclusion was drawn from secondary information of no human diseases being reported but there still is no scientific evidence to show that bats that are spread out all over the city as well in the High Court premises are disease carriers.
In their study, the NIV scientists, who partnered with other researchers from different academic institutions in the US, found that published records from outside India show that 11 species of bats were found to have evidence of henipavirus infection or exposure. These are viruses that harbour into their bats’ body but can be transmitted to humans. The scientists said that they identified at least four additional Indian bat species that are likely to have been exposed to Nipah virus or cross-reacting henipaviruses.
They also called for surveillance of these species which would help preparing plans to respond to outbreaks such as the Nipah disease in Kerala....