"If we determine the dispersal routes of these bats, it could prove a boon to those interested in global health," noted Tsang. "We need to understand the ecology and evolution of a host as much as a pathogen in order to create preventative measures in case of an epidemic."
Indeed, flying foxes can act as Typhoid Marys, carrying diseases that sicken people without falling ill themselves. They are natural reservoir hosts for several diseases and have been implicated in outbreaks of illnesses such as Lyssavirus and Hendra virus that have killed pigs, horses, and humans. Yet flying foxes have been ignored as vectors until recently, while there has been a great deal of study of birds and livestock that transmit diseases like H1N1 influenza.
Like birds, these large bats can cover long distances and cross oceans. Their range stretches from east of New Guinea, throughout Southeast Asia, and over to islands off eastern Africa.
They also have certain habits that help pass the virus along. They aggregate in huge roosting colonies of 20,000 to 55,000 individuals where they can trade pathogens. They are attracted to plantations of fruit trees and other trees that are tapped for their sap. Roosting in the trees, the animals sometimes drip saliva on half-eaten fruit or defecate into sap collection containers, both excellent ways to transmit infectious diseases.
Ms. Tsang's research might also help preserve populations of an animal that has disappeared throughout much of its range due to habitat encroachment or overhunting. On top of that, Ms. Tsang noted, the animals happen to be a fascinating evolutionary myst
|Contact: Jessa Netting|
City College of New York