A joint study conducted by a team of researchers has claimed that China, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand may turn into new “hotspots” favourable for bats that carry coronaviruses.
Conditions in these places could become ripe for the disease to jump from bats to humans. The study has been conducted by a team of researchers of the University of California, Berkeley, Polytechnic University of Milan and Massey University of New Zealand.
The findings of the study have been published in the journal Nature Food. The study showed land-use change related to forest fragmentation, agricultural expansion and concentrated livestock production are creating favourable ‘hotspots’ globally for bats carrying coronavirus.
Most of the current hotspots are clustered in China, where a growing demand for meat products has driven the expansion of large-scale, industrial livestock farming.
Further, parts of Japan, the north Philippines and China south of Shanghai are also at risk of becoming hotspots with further forest fragmentation, while parts of Indochina and Thailand may transition into hotspots with increases in livestock production, the study said.
“Land use changes can have an important impact on human health, both because we are modifying the environment, but also because they can increase our exposure to zoonotic disease,” Paolo D`Odorico, Professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, was quoted as saying by media reports.
While the exact origins of the Sars-CoV-2, virus that caused Covid-19, remain unclear, the disease likely emerged when a virus that infects horseshoe bats was able to jump to humans – either directly through wildlife-to-human contact, or indirectly by first infecting an intermediate animal host, such as the pangolin.
Horseshoe bats are known to carry a variety of coronaviruses, including strains that are genetically similar to ones that cause Covid-19 and Sars.
“While we are unable to directly trace the transmission of Sars-CoV-2 from wildlife to humans, we do know that the type of land-use change that brings humans into the picture is typically associated with the presence of these bats who are known to carry the virus,” D`Odorico said.
The study used remote sensing to analyse land-use patterns throughout the horseshoe bats range, which extends from Western Europe through Southeast Asia.