The PPRABC, as a member of RELCOM (Latin American and Caribbean Network for the Conservation of Bats), fully supports and identifies with the official position of this network, which we quote below.

Debunking the relationship between bats and emerging diseases : a call to sanity and scientific rigor.

(Prepared by Rodrigo A. Medellín and Luis R. Víquez-R.)

August 24, 2013

We've all heard the words virus , pathogens , bacteria, deadly epidemic , contagious and bat ,independently or in separate sentences . But unfortunately in the last decade has been used increasingly frequent in the same sentence. Both specialized media as those for general public fall into this terrible pattern: bats associated with terms like epidemic and contagious when these associations are really guesses or half-truths.

Recently, bats have suffered serious threats due to the White Nose Syndrome and the destruction of their habitats to the establishment of wind farms that kill hundreds of thousands of bats per year. Today the bats face another threat that affects their image and that is making the public once again tipping against them.

In recent decades, biologists have erased the false and negative image that have been attributed to bats following an unfair media treatment fueled by ignorance, sensational headlines, myths, and lack of knowledge of  the environmental services they provide us. This counter- struggle has achieved great success and today is undeniable that bats enjoy a much more positive and truthful than 40 years ago.

However, this work and the image of bats are now endangered because researchers working on emerging infectious diseases (EID) constantly refer to have found a "new virus" and that this can be transmitted between bats and humans. Usually these inferences have been weak, mostly circumstantial evidence. Being many millions of dollars invested in EIE there is a connection between obtaining the grant and the more the terms listed above are used, the alarm will sell. However it is wise to step back and not to fall into harmful cycles lacking information. This vicious to draw bats as disease transmitters is most cases not proven with solid evidence and it is causing now serious damage undermining conservation processes that do have strong scientific and socioeconomic bases. Today countries like India and Trinidad and Tobago have declared bats as vermin. In those countries the innocent presence of a bat in the yard of the house or office results in terrified calls to health centers. Recently the New York Times and the U.S. television network NBC prematurely running without solid foundations announced that bats as the origin of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS for its acronym in English ) .

It's time to clear the air. The Latin American Network for the Conservation of Bats (RELCOM) , has decided to speak at a continental level to defend the truth , using the available evidence as the sole basis and avoiding unfounded speculations and extrapolations.

Today, the ability to detect minute traces of virus or even immunological impact, is vastly superior to what we had 20 or 30 years, allowing us to find traces of virus in the most unimaginable samples from the geysers boiling until the marine mud, and this has not caused any increase in outbreaks or disease in humans. Today we are aware of how little we know about the virus. We know less than 5,000 types of virus by name, but recent estimates suggest that there are over 1031 different types, and this has not caused any increase in outbreaks or disease in humans. We also know that 1 ml of sea water containing up to 10 million viral particles, and 1 kg of ocean sediment contains 1 million different viral sequences, and this has not caused any increase in outbreaks or disease in humans. We also know that a stool sample from a healthy human contains more than 1,200 different viral genotypes, and this has not caused any increase in outbreaks or disease in humans. Our ignorance is so widespread that we don’t even know what dwells in our navels: in samples of 60 healthy humans were found at least 2,368 different bacterial phylotypes, on average 67 phylotypes per navel ! And this has not caused any increase in outbreaks or disease in humans. The sad, despicable and ancient practice of eating bats, widespread in several countries in Asia and Africa, provides another point of evidence that the alleged transmissions between bats and humans are taken out of proportion by EIE, if in fact the bats were source of the health risks touting the news, that people who consume these bats for a long time should have already suffered the ravages a deadly virus does, and that has not happened. This, of course, does not condone the practice of eating bats that should be eliminated due to the severe mortality caused to flying foxes . A live bat is much more valuable than a dead one.

As if this were not enough, we must remember that viruses are the most abundant biological entities numerically on earth, and have accompanied the living beings from their origin over 2,000 million years ago, and also play essential roles in the functioning of ecosystems such as bacteriophages, without which bacterial populations would grow unchecked.

In conclusion, when sensational news appear with titles like "Loose Murderers : viruses that threaten our survival" or "The deadly virus that has killed 47 people connected to the bats", we must remember that the use evidence is usually poor and far from conclusively to demonstrate that bats are the vectors of these pathogens and the disease itself is very far from being an epidemic threat to the world. We call it here in EIE researchers to :

1. Discontinue the practice of calling "new" viruses that are in the wild and probably have been in the wild forever. They are simply viruses that have not previously been reported, but there is nothing new.

2. Stop extrapolations and dubious assertions supported by tenuous and unsubstantiated evidence that bats are the vectors of these pathogens until they have hard data proving beyond doubt that relationship .

3. Incorporate irrefutable facts to their speech , for example how little we know about the virus, its diversity, its pathogenesis and transmission media. They should clarify the towering odds of finding virus not previously reported in almost any room, from the floor of our garden to the surface of our kitchen table and into our navel.

4. Incorporated into their speech the great benefits that provide both bats and viruses, and warn the media and the general public that a world without bats and viruses would most likely be a dead world and how life benefits would be severely truncated.

5. Join the real fight to keep the bats and all biodiversity, not only with weak speeches but truly providing knowledge to understand the ecological cycles which pathogens are part and demonstrating that outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases are more likely when humans destroy ecosystems.