Protecting Vermont's bats from COVID-19
MONTPELIER — There is no evidence at this time that North American bats can transmit the virus causing COVID-19 to humans, according to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. However, there is a very real and growing concern that we could, in fact, transmit the virus to our already vulnerable bats, some of which are threatened or endangered.
Out of an abundance of caution, wildlife agencies across the United States and Canada, in partnership with nuisance wildlife control operators and animal rehabilitators, are enacting safety measures to lessen the possibility of spreading COVID-19 to local animals, just as many veterinarians are doing with our pets, the department said. This includes temporarily postponing any activity that involves handling bats.
The goal is protecting our native bats and other vulnerable wildlife from reverse zoonosis, where infected humans transmit diseases to animals. These measures will also prevent local wildlife from becoming a new repository for COVID-19 in North America while further investigations are conducted.
"Vermont is home to nine bat species, five of those are endangered or threatened," Fish and Wildlife small mammal biologist Alyssa Bennett said in a media release. "It's important that we protect our local bat populations from infectious disease transmission by admiring them from a safe distance and by staying out of caves and mines where bats hibernate so we don't disturb them or potentially expose them to this virus."
"There also are several ways to support bat conservation, including leaving trees with cavities or bark peeling in a roof-like pattern on your property to provide bat roosting sites, installing bat houses if you need to safely evict bats from your home, and reporting bat colonies to our department," she said.
To learn what to do if you encounter a single bat in your home, or need to safely evict a colony of bats, can visit the department's website, https://vtfishandwildlife.com/, Bennett said. Anyone who has had direct contact with a bat or suspects that they have been exposed to rabies is encouraged to call the rabies hotline at 800-472-2437, the Vermont Department of Health, or their physician.
Anyone who finds a large colony of bats in their home is asked to fill out the bat colony reporting form on the department's website, and call 802-353-4818 if they are seeking a local nuisance wildlife control professional. Additional guidance about living with bats can be found at https://vtfishandwildlife.com/learn-more/living-with-wildlife/got-bats.
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