Keep Calm and Don’t Eat the Bats

Yes, I did adapt the title of this post from one of my favorite Dr. Who episodes.

It came to mind because I’ve been reading, learning, and talking about the new coronavirus. We should all be wary of new diseases.

isn’t this a cool artist’s rendition of a disease-causing creature?

 Let’s get a little perspective.

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has infected over 6,000 people and 132 died so far.   Most of people who died were already in poor health.  The total number of people affected is unknown because some people may have such mild symptoms that they don’t seek medical help.

Just to be clear, if your loved-one who is stricken with a fatal disease, the statistics matter little. I have no intentions of diminishing anyone’s loss.

Influenza infects about five million people and it kills about 400,000 people each year. 

There are seven types of coronaviruses. Four types (229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1) usually “cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. “(For more information check out the CDC website:  

Two coronaviruses (MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV) can cause severe symptoms.

That’s  one of the reasons people are taking precautions regarding 2019-nCoV.  
Like the cold virus, 2019-nCoV can spread before an infected patient has symptoms.  The rate seems to be about 1:4.  In other words, one person with the infection infects four more.  Compare this to measles, which has an infection rate of 1:9. According to WHO, 10 million people contracted measles in 2018 and 140,000 died. About 25% of measles cases result in some type of residual neurological damage.

The 2019-nCov outbreak began in Wuhan. Early in the outbreak, authorities canceled many of the lunar new year festivities in Wuhan and locked down many other cities, helping to contain the spread.

The lunar new year is a time when millions of people travel home to celebrate. I can only imagine the push-back we’d have here if cities were quarantine and Christmas festivities got canceled because a few hundred people became ill.

We can’t even seem to get everyone on board for influenza and measles vaccines, which are proven to prevent deaths and long-term health impairments.

So where did the 2019-nCoV come from?  Scientists are pretty sure it came from bats.

Indian flying foxes, which have been known to carry Nipah virus, hanging on a tree last year in Beawar, India.Credit…Sumit Saraswat/Pacific Press/LightRocket, via Getty Images

Bats are sold in Wuhan live wildlife markets.  

Bats creep me out more than snakes or even rats, so I can’t imagine eating one.  To be clear, though, it’s not so much eating them that’s the problem as being around the live bats. (Most viruses are very heat-sensitive, so cooking will remove the danger.)

But it turns out that bats are pretty marvelous creatures.  They are the only flying mammal.  Flying takes up so much energy that bits of their own DNA get released around them.  

Bats evolved to lower their respond to snippets of DNA so that their bodies don’t have an inflammatory response to their own.  Viruses are basically snippets of DNA, so bats also have  a much higher tolerance to viruses than any other mammal. They live in large colonies and they can live up to 40 years.  So basically, bats can carry around lots of viruses without ever getting sick.

So even though bats are the culprit in many coronavirus infections, studying bats may help us contain the diseases or perhaps even limit the inflammatory response that results in the severe symptoms leading to death.

“Creatures from another world…No one quite knows where they came from, but they’re as old as the Universe, or very nearly. And they have survived this long because they have the most perfect defence system…”

This is a quote from the creepiest Dr. Who Monster, the Lonely Assassins (or the crying angels.)

Are you worried about the coronavirus? How about the flu?