Scientists found that bats are transmitters of dangerous infections

TSU zoologist Maria Orlova is participating in an international research project dedicated to parasitofauna bats of Mexico and the Antilles. The scientists have proved that both parasites and bats can transmit infections that are dangerous to humans.

The scientific community commonly believes that the group of bats is ecologically isolated from the rest of the vertebrates. That is why for a long time bats were not considered as a transmitter of dangerous infections and scientists did not study their parasites.  The international research team (USA, Mexico, and Russia) is focused on studying the role of bats and their parasites in the circulation of dangerous natural focal infections in Central America and particularly in the territory of the Antilles archipelago, where tourism is developed.

- One of the most important goals of the research is find out which infections are transmitted by these mammals and their parasites and whether human infection is possible. The Antilles are tropical and a habitat of many bat species (bats are originally a tropical mammal) and a significant number of species of their parasites. Both were tested for any infections - said Maria Orlova, a postdoc of the TSU Laboratory for Biodiversity Monitoring.

Common opinion about the isolation of bats in the tropics is changing, since we can observe that there are close ecological interconnections between different groups of animals. Bats tend to inhabit human-made shelters, which makes their direct contact with people possible. In the wild they neighbor with and exchange parasites and infections with rodents, many of which always surround people: it means that transmission of infections is possible through this link as well.

-The samples from the bats contained gamasid mites. They are common for rodents, which indicates cohabitation', says Maria Orlova. In Siberia such findings are extremely rare, but the warmer the climate, the closer the contact between bats and rodents. Cases of parasites exchange become more frequent, so the probability of contagion grows. The infection cycle may include not only specific mites, but for example mosquitoes (human-biting as well), which is another opportunity to deliver'the infection to humans.

Thus, listing the infections and studying their transmission is very urgent: for instance, the researchers in this project found causative bacteria of such genera as Bartonella, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia, and also nematode of the Litomosoides genus in the tissue and parasites of bats. Those are infections that may threaten people as well.

- Most parasites common for bats are harmless for people as they do not attack us, but our research proves that these mites may spread the disease among small mammals, which in turn may transmit the infection to people. 'This is why it is absolutely necessary to study gamasid mites,  - concludes Maria Orlova.

The first data obtained in the research was published in an article:

Beck J. D., Loftis A. D., Daly J. L., Reeves W. K., Orlova M. V. 2016. First record of Chiroderma improvisum Baker & Genoways, 1976 (Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae) from Saint Kitts, Lesser Antilles // Check List. Volume 12, Number 2.