Bats may be more likely than rodents to pass on a viral infection to other mammalian species, including humans, suggests a large-scale analysis.


Angela Luis of Colorado State University in Fort Collins and her colleagues searched the literature, counting and characterizing zoonotic viruses — those that can be transmitted to humans from other animals — that had been reported in bats (pictured) or rodents. The authors found that bats, with an average of 1.79 viruses per species, host significantly more zoonotic viruses per species than rodents, with 1.48 viruses per species.

Bat species that live longer or produce more litters per year tended to harbour more zoonotic viruses, and a proclivity for living closely with related species was the biggest determinant of zoonotic-viral richness.

The transfer of viruses could occur more frequently between bat species, which tend to live close together, than rodent ones, and the authors suggest that this could partly explain the higher prevalence of viruses in bats.

Proc. R. Soc. B 280, 20122753 (2013)