Bats and Disease
Worldwide there is some concern that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) could potentially pass from infected humans to bats (see this report): the IUCN Bat Specialist Group has recommended suspending all fieldwork which involves close proximity to bats until we know more about human to animal transmission. We think the infection rate in South Africa is still low enough, and infection tracing currently good enough, for the following rules to be implemented:
- Where possible, mist-netting, harp-trapping, roost visits, and any work where the human would be within 3 m of any bat, should be suspended, using roost exit counts and call monitoring instead. If entering roosts is unavoidable (for example, to check by guano piles for evidence of other-season usage) then PPE of N95 masks or equivalent, individual-use gloves worn over bat-handling gloves, and boots that have been sterilised with a 10 % bleach solution should be used. If handling bats is unavoidable then PPE as described above should be used, as well as each bat must be handled individually with a recently sterilised cloth or catch bag, and cloths and catch bags must then be sterilised before being used again.
- No-one infected with COVID-19, or anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case, may handle live bats (even with PPE) or enter bat roosts of any sort, and not for two weeks after being tested and cleared of the virus. Since infected persons can be asymptomatic and thus unaware of infection, all staff should complete a simple survey (see sacoronavirus.co.za for symptoms) which should be recorded and held in the event of any issues arising.
These measures are designed to protect bats from humans: we are watching the international and local situation carefully and will update everyone as soon as anything changes.