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Evaluating the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to bats in the context of wildlife research, rehabilitation, and control

April 20, 2022

Preventing wildlife disease outbreaks is a priority for natural resource agencies, and management decisions can be urgent, especially in epidemic circumstances. With the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, wildlife agencies were concerned whether the activities they authorize might increase the risk of viral transmission from humans to North American bats, but had a limited amount of time in which to make decisions. We describe how decision analysis provides a powerful framework to analyze and reanalyze complex natural resource management problems as knowledge evolves. Coupled with expert judgment and avenues for the rapid release of information, risk assessment can provide timely scientific information for evolving decisions. In April 2020, the first rapid risk assessment was conducted to evaluate the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to North American bats. Based on the best available information and relying heavily on expert judgment, the risk assessment found a small possibility of transmission during summer work activities. Following that assessment, additional knowledge and data emerged, such as bat viral challenge studies, that further elucidated the risks of human-to-bat transmission and culminated in a second risk assessment in the fall of 2020. We updated the first SARS-CoV-2 risk assessment with new management alternatives and new estimates of little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) susceptibility, using findings from the fall 2020 assessment and other empirical studies. We found that new knowledge led to an 88% decrease in the median number of bats estimated to be infected per 1,000 encountered when compared to earlier results. The use of facemasks during, or a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination prior to, bat encounters further reduced those risks. Using a combination of decision analysis, expert judgment, rapid risk assessment, and efficient modes of information distribution, we provided timely science-based support to decision makers for summer bat work in North America.

Publication Year 2022
Title Evaluating the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to bats in the context of wildlife research, rehabilitation, and control
DOI 10.1002/wsb.1262
Authors Jonathan D. Cook, Evan H. Campbell Grant, Jeremy T. H. Coleman, Jonathan M. Sleeman, Michael C. Runge
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Society Bulletin
Index ID 70231336
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center; Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; Eastern Ecological Science Center