The Real Reason Bats are a Halloween Hit

Bats are typically associated with Halloween, but have you ever wondered why? They might look cute but read a little deeper and you’ll see they have definitely earned their place in the horror hall of fame.

You may have heard of the SARS virus, a viral pathogen that caused a huge health scare in China in 2002. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is caused by a coronavirus (referring to its shape) that is found mainly in Chinese horseshoe bats. Whilst not particularly photogenic these interesting looking critters are found -as the name might suggest- in China where the outbreak started, and were quickly pinpointed as the infectious viral source. Initially affecting animal handlers working with wild animals in Gangzhou the disease quickly spread to their household relations and those they came into contact with in hospitals, meaning it wasn’t long before it had spread to Hong Kong.

The disease starts off with acute pneumonia causing a fever, chills, headaches and fatigue even without the breathing difficulties that the condition is best known for. Less frequent symptoms include dizziness and chest pain, a sore throat and a runny nose (technically called rhinorrhea for those who want to dazzle at the next pub quiz). As if that wasn’t enough, 20% of those with the pneumonia then developed ARDS. ARDS stands for acute respiratory distress syndrome and is caused when fluids and proteins from the walls of the lungs enter the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs and start to fill them up, in a similar fashion to drowning. On top of this, the elasticity of the lungs becomes reduced making breathing even harder, causing patients to have to be put on mechanical ventilation to enable them to breathe and reduce the chances of organ failure.

10 years on, when people were just beginning to forget about the SARS outbreak, a new coronavirus was discovered in 2012 in the form of MERS. The MERS coronavirus causes Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, which is similar to SARS but with limited information to accompany it, arguably making it more dangerous. First identified in Saudi Arabia the virus has also been isolated in bats and has similar symptoms to SARS, and like SARS it has been documented spreading from person to person making the likelihood of an outbreak ever more probable especially as it has stealthily moved its way into Europe. Whilst bats are a big player in the spread of MERS they aren’t the only animals to worry about as the virus has been found in every camel sampled in the country of Oman. As at the end of 2008 Saudi Arabia had over 860,000 camels and as we are armed with little more than limited information, there is a fairly reasonable cause for concern.

So next Halloween when you’re trying to decide whether a vampire is scarier than a zombie spare a thought for the bat, because whilst vampires and zombies only exist in your nightmares, the threat from bats is there even after the fake blood has been rinsed down the plughole.


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