Nipah virus:bats breed in and around city, mean no harm

Nipah virus:bats breed in and around city, mean no harm

With the rise in the number of Nipah virus (NiV) cases in Kerala, chiropterologists (who study bats) have advised people to be cautious while consuming fruits like mango and jackfruit among other precautions.

Researchers point to various studies that show that 19 species of bats carry the NiV. The most common being the fruit and flying fox bats (belonging to the Pteropus genus). These two species are generally found close to human dwellings.

Bengaluru and the surrounding areas house around 5,000 bats including the fruit and flying fox bats.

According to Dr Sanath Krishna Muliya, programme manager and senior centre veterinarian of Alexander Wildlab, five bat species out of the 19, inhabit India, but not all of them are dangerous.

“Indian flying fox is the only species, as of now, which is proved to carry the virus,” he said.

Proximity, main reason Experts say that humans and bats have always co-existed. But with the destruction of the bats’ natural habitats (caves and trees), the proximity between the flying mammals and humans has increased which has spiked the probability of being infected by the virus. Humans could get infected if they consumed fruits bitten or infected by these bats.

D Pilot Dovih, a researcher from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), thus asks people to be careful when having fruits. “With the season of popular fruits like jackfruits and mangoes going on, people should be careful while consuming them. South India is also home to a large number of coconut and palm trees. People should be watchful,” Dovih said.

Human intervention

Researchers also say that bats were primitive carriers of rabies, Ebola and swine flu. They warn that the virus spreads rapidly when the bats are under stress or during their breeding season, as it is the time when they discharge more fluids.

Prof A K Chakravarthy, Head of Department of Entomology, GKVK attributed the spread of the virus to a change in life and behavioural pattern of bats is changing due to human intervention.

With the NiV scare, people have also started contacting experts to learn about bats. Rajesh Puttaswamaiah from the Bat Conservation India Trust, said that they have been receiving calls from people enquiring about bats.

“People consider bats as a bad omen and try to kill them, but they should also understand that they are crucial for the biodiversity and germination,” he said.

The additional principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) C Jayaram has asked the CCF–Mangaluru, to identify the bat population areas and assess the population.

“It is not to scare people, but a precautionary safety measure. Once the areas are located then it will be decided whether to seal off the areas or not,” he said.