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How bats carry deadly diseases without dying

Bats don’t just host deadly diseases — they can tolerate them shockingly well.

Kimberly Mas is a senior producer at Vox video focused on science explainers.

Bats get a bad rap in all forms of media — and it’s not entirely unwarranted. Whenever they hit the news, it’s typically paired with some deadly disease that they’ve somehow unleashed on humans: from Ebola to Hendra virus to Nipah virus to various coronaviruses such as SARS, MERS, and even Covid-19. Bats are just really good at hosting deadly diseases, so much so that researchers from Brazil to Australia to China are searching bat genomes for clues about the next potential outbreak.

But there’s another angle to consider.

Bats aren’t just very good at hosting deadly diseases. They seem to tolerate them very well. After all, we’re not finding caves full of dead bats that were struck down by Ebola or a coronavirus. Exactly how they do this has been a mystery, but researchers think it might be because they evolved with a unique ability: They’re the only mammals that can fly.

When we stop looking at bats as simply reservoirs of deadly disease and start to look at them as the biological marvels they are, new doors open — ones that could potentially unlock new approaches to how we treat disease in humans.

You can find the video above and the entire library of Vox’s videos on YouTube.

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