The news that bats are the responsible for the outbreaks of the Nipah virus is false. Don’t you believe it? Here a study that proves it! https://www.deccanherald.com/national/bats-not-primary-source-nipah-outbreak-kerala-report-671874.html
But why then is this news bouncing on all the newspapers? Unfortunately, these animals are fascinating but they are also scary and any news about them is news with a lot of readers, for better or for worse.
The Nipah virus bats correlation is based on a study released in 2006 that had no scientific basis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3291367/. The study is based on interviews with patients who showed symptoms of the virus. Among the answers, the only significant correlation found between patients and viruses was related to the consumption of palm sap. An initial interview also found that palm sap collectors often hear bats calls nearby palm trees, they had seen the droppings close to the containers from which they drink the sap. Hence 1+1= bat spread the disease.
“This outbreak provides evidence that Nipah virus infection in humans in Bangladesh is a seasonal disease that results from the interaction between P. giganteus fruit bats and humans” the article says. Indeed bats are carriers of a lot of viruses, and for this reason they are largely studied because they have an unique immune system: understand how they survive can help our survival to the disease. But this does not mean that they spread the disease!
The study indeed presents some “limitations” (as these researchers call them) … I quote: “Two case-patients had contact with a sick hen, 1 with a sick cat, and 1 with a sick sheep. None of the 44 case-patients or controls reported physical contact with pigs or fruit bats, and none had eaten bats.” So hens and cats and sick sheep, but not bats ” An important limitation of this investigation is that only 3 serum samples were available from case-patients. Thus, some persons included in the outbreak may not have had Nipah virus infection. “This is really great for an epidemiological study…. And again ” Three proxy respondents who unambiguously reported consuming date palm sap during the initial in-depth qualitative interview reported no consumption during the follow-up close-ended interview. These 3 persons were relatives of a date palm sap collector. Their answers to the case-control questionnaire were used in the analysis. Thus, some study participants probably did realize what some of the investigation team’s hypotheses were” “Owners viewed the fruit bats as A NUISANCE because they frequently drink the palm sap directly from the tap or the clay pot“. Can this be the cause of everything? That bat are a nuisance for date pal sap collectors?
News and researches such these are the worst for the conservation of bats. These animals in danger of extinction, and protected under several national and international regulations. Their importance for human kind is unbelievable: their biological control of pest in agriculture save crops for billions of dollars every years. They are important pollinators. They are fascinating. It has been reported by several colonies of bats have been burned by people that fear diseases. Is this what we want to do? Burn bats because, as Merlin Tuttle says in his wonderful article “they are always considered guilty until proven innocent”? And, unfortunately, even when proven innocent, the damage is done. A retracted news does not have the same weight as a sensational news.
Therefore, I ask for your help, as journalists, as researchers, and as people: make good information and help the cause of the conservation of biodiversity. Stop spread these news, do not let these news to be published in any newspaper. Thank you!
Read more on the topic on Merlin Tuttle “Give bats a break” here