Q&AZ: Are Arizona Bats Disease Reservoirs?

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Thursday, May 21, 2020 - 4:32pm

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Q&AZ is supported in part by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Grand Canyon bats
Shawn Thomas/National Park Service
Small Townsend's big-eared bats.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 likely originated in bats, as did its cousins, which caused the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome and 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome epidemics.

One KJZZ listener wanted to know if bats in Arizona pose a risk.

Angie McIntire is a bat biologist and the statewide bat project coordinator with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. She says bats do not attack people and are safe to observe — although people should avoid picking up wild animals, including bats, which can carry rabies.

Moreover, people should consider the valuable service the flying mammals provide in removing disease vectors.

"Diseases like West Nile and Zika and dengue that mosquitoes carry, and the importance that bats play in the environment with mosquito control as well as other insects," she said. 

Though not a virologist, McIntire is one of the state's foremost bat experts.

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