New Delhi: In a first, researchers from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have found traces of bat coronavirus (BtCoV), which is different from the novel coronavirus, in two bat species from Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu.
However, according to the researchers, there is no evidence to suggest that the bat coronavirus can be transmitted to humans.
Bats are considered to be natural reservoirs for many viruses and some of them have potential human pathogens. In India, traces of the Nipah virus had been found in bats earlier.
A 2017 study also found the presence of antibodies linked to the Ebola virus in bats in Nagaland.
The novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2 — which is causing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — is also believed to have originated from bats.
Twenty nine bats found positive for BtCoV
To assess the presence of coronavirus in bats, the researchers performed identification and characterisation of bat CoV (BtCoV) in Pteropus medius and Rousettus species from seven states in India, collected during 2018 and 2019.
At least 29 bats from Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu were found positive for BtCoV. The SARS-CoV-2 is reported to be 96 per cent identical to BtCoV at the whole genome level, the study noted.
The Pteropus bat species were found positive for Nipah virus in 2018 and 2019 in Kerala. The current study was part of an ongoing effort to understand the prevalence of Nipah virus in bats.
The study, however, warns that although coronavirus (CoVs) usually do not produce clinical symptoms in bats, accidental transmission of some of these viruses to humans and other animals may result in respiratory or neurological diseases of variable severity.
“It is still not understood as to why only certain CoVs can infect people,” the study noted.
India has a diverse population of bats: Approximately 117 species of bats have been recorded, with around 100 subspecies coming under 39 genera belonging to eight families — Pteropodidae, Rhinolophidae, Hipposideridae, Megadermatidae, Rhinopomatidae, Emballonuridae, Molossidae and Vespertilionidae.
The National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV) at Pune has detected several viruses in bats, including the Nipah virus in Pteropus medius, Malsoor virus, Tioman virus and a novel adenovirus in Rousettus leschenaultii.
Nipah viral RNA antibodies could be detected in Pteropus bats in many states and the possible link of transmission from bats to humans could be established during the Nipah outbreak that occurred in Kerala in 2018 and 2019.
The study underlines the need to enhance the screening of coronavirus in bats in India to prevent any future outbreaks.