Assessing Spillover Risk of Bat SARS-Related Coronaviruses in SE Asia

NEW YORK - August 9, 2022 - Published today in Nature Communications, EcoHealth Alliance announces the findings of A strategy to assess spillover risk of bat SARS-related coronaviruses in Southeast Asia. The report estimates that a median of ~66,000 people are infected with SARSr-CoVs by bats annually in South and Southeast Asia. These results suggest spillover of SARSr-CoVs is higher than previously estimated, perhaps a daily occurrence, but likely under-reported due to factors such as infrequent monitoring and misdiagnosis. The model used and its conclusions provide clear implications for investment in future pandemic prevention and preparedness. 

The team used data on bat distribution from the IUCN and refined it to identify the true area of habitat for all 26 known SARSr-CoV bat host species in Southeast Asia. Spillover risk – defined as the number of people infected annually – was then estimated by incorporating data on human population overlap with bat hosts, the probability that people might come in contact with bats, and that this contact could lead to a detectable human infection. 

“By integrating spatial ecology, human behavior, and serological data, we’ve provided a first estimate of the extent of direct bat-to-human SARSr-CoV spillover in Southeast Asia. This tells us where behavior interventions could be targeted to reduce risk. Bats provide important ecological services, so we need to find solutions that don’t threaten their populations.” remarked co-author Dr. Cecilia Sánchez.

Map of Asian continent showing bat population distribution and species-richness

Figure: Map of SARSr-CoV bat host ‘species richness’ in Southeast Asia

 

Dr. Peter Daszak , Team Lead and EcoHealth Alliance President, stated that “This work identifies where the next SARS-like virus could originate. EcoHealth teams are already working with our partners across these hotspots to find the first evidence of new outbreaks, and help protect communities on the front line. This is how we can prevent the next pandemic.”

Dr. Linfa Wang, co-author and Director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School emphasized “Now that we have the serology tools to identify who’s been infected by these viruses, we are working to ground-truth the paper’s conclusions about rates of spillover.”

Dr. Zhengli Shi, co-author and Director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases added that “This work shows the value of international collaboration in identifying the path forward to how we can prevent future emerging diseases.”

The paper was developed in partnership with Duke-NUS Medical School, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Research was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (R01AI110964 and U01AI151797 “EID-SEARCH”), the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, Pamela Thye, and The Wallace Fund.

Points of Contact:

Dr. Peter Daszak, daszak@ecohealthalliance.org 

Dr. Cecilia Sánchez, sanchez@ecohealthalliance.org 

 

About EcoHealth Alliance:

EcoHealth Alliance is an international environmental health nonprofit dedicated to protecting wildlife and the public from emerging infectious diseases. We work with governments, scientists, and policymakers around the world to make critical changes for pandemic prediction and prevention. Our dedicated scientists conduct field research and develop tools to safeguard the health of the planet, people, and wildlife.

Press Contact: Majelia Ampadu, ampadu@ecohealthalliance.org

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