Their reputation might peg them as disease-ridden vermin, but bats aren’t so bad after all, a new University of Calgary study claims.
In an article published in the Journal of Wildlife Disease, U of C researchers dispute the notion that the creatures of the night are riddled with rabies.
“It’s completely not true,” said Brandon Klug, a graduate student and the lead author of the paper.
“They’re just all negative stigmas that have been passed down.”
In the article, the researchers suggest the number of bats with the disease is closer to one per cent – regardless of species or where the bats roost. That’s compared to the 10 per cent figure indicated in previous studies.
The researchers compared bats turned in by the public and those randomly sampled from their natural environment. They also looked for the disease in carcasses of migratory tree-roosting hoary bats and silver-haired bats killed by wind turbines.
The research team sent 217 bat carcasses to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention for testing; they also reviewed literature on reported rabies in a variety of North American species for the past 56 years – which included 65,096 bats.
“This study is significant because it confirms that rabies rates for bats has been over-estimated. It’s also the first time such a rigorous literature review has been completed on this topic,” said co-author Dr. Robert Barclay, biological science professor and head of the U of C’s department of biological sciences.
Bats are considered “reservoirs” for rabies, passing the disease among each other at a rate that keeps it within the population, but isn’t fast enough to eradicate the bat population.
“It’s good to give them a little bit of positive attention,” Klug said, noting bats already face a host of threats, including wind turbines.
Though the threat of rabies is low, it’s still not a good idea to handle bats, he added.
The article is by Klug, Barclay, Amy Turmelle, James Ellison and Erin Baerwald.
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