April 28, 2020
Nuisance bat encounters – Temporary Prohibition on release of bats
As state, federal, and local governments respond to the human effects of SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 pandemic, the wildlife management community is working to understand and address potential risks and impacts to wildlife species.
The current COVID-19 pandemic (caused by the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2) has raised the question about the possibility of reverse zoonotic transmission of the virus from infected people to bats. This is a reasonable question because SARS-CoV-2 is believed to have come from Chinese horseshoe bats either directly or through an intermediate host. Since SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus in North America we have no data on whether our native bat species are susceptible to infection, whether they would be affected (morbidity or mortality), or if they could act as a reservoir of the virus. Concern is warranted because North American bat species are known to harbor several other Coronaviruses. As of April 27, 2020, routine testing for humans is not readily available nor has testing for wildlife, including bats, been validated. Bat species have a higher risk of disease spread because they are long-lived and many of them roost in dense colonies and can fly great distances (as evident by the recent rapid geographic spread of White Nose Syndrome).
At this time, we are seeking the cooperation of and partnership with the Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator licensees (NWCO) so that we can reduce the potential risk of infecting wild bat populations with SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Out of an abundance of caution, DEC biologists, along with many other wildlife management agencies, have currently suspended activities that involve close contact with bats. This includes closing off access to all hibernacula under our jurisdiction, ceasing current DEC activities involving close contact with bats, and denying research applications which involve trapping or handling of bats.
Consistent with these actions and following recommendations of Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), DEC is implementing a complete prohibition on the release of any bats that may be encountered by NWCO’s until further notice. These restrictions will remain in effect, or be updated, pending risk assessment based on experiments or surveys to determine the susceptibility of North American bats to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
For any bats you may encounter in a residence, please continue to follow the already established best practices including all Rabies Vector Species protocols as well as any directives from local health departments.
In addition, it is recommended that individual bats captured in homes or other dwellings be humanely euthanized since there is currently no protocol to determine that the captured bat was exposed to SARS-CoV-2. It is not recommended that maternity colonies in homes or other artificial structures be euthanized. Use of metal bat traps or cages to catch multiple bats should be discouraged because it could be difficult to adequately decontaminate after installation. Any potential rabies exposures cases should continue to follow the process currently in place in each county.
For now, we are contacting you to ensure that no bats are released to the wild in order to reduce the potential risk of infecting wild populations with SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The National Wildlife Health Center has provided the following recommendations for the use of personal protective equipment when handling bats:
- A face mask can be worn to block or minimize the exchange or respiratory droplets. An N95 respirator is ideal, but this type of mask requires professional assessment for a proper fit. Alternatives may include use of a surgical mask or dust mask. (DEC note: currently N95 masks are being directed to those in the health care field);
- Disposable exam gloves or other reusable gloves (e.g. rubber dish washing gloves) that can be decontaminated can be used to prevent spread of pathogens between animals, from animals to humans, or vice versa;
- Washable or disposable coveralls, or a change in clothing and footwear, can be used to prevent movement of pathogens between sites
Additionally, we recommend that you immediately implement enhanced protection measures including: more frequent disinfection of bat-related care items, keeping bats that you may handle away from people as much as possible, and routine decontamination of all surfaces frequently touched by humans are a few simple steps you can implement now as more guidance is being developed. The health of our native bats—already under siege from white-nose syndrome—depends on all of us to do our best to keep them safe during this pandemic.
Please contact us at SpecialLicenses@dec.ny.gov if you have any questions concerning nuisance bat response or the potential impacts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on bats.
Additional resources can be found at:
U.S. Centers for Disease Control