Bats and COVID-19

The virus that causes COVID-19 is similar to a virus that has been found in horseshoe bats in China, but the true origin of the virus and how it first infected people is still unknown. Bats, viruses and humans have a complex relationship. Here we dig a little deeper into COVID-19, bats, and human health. For up to date information on COVID-19, go to

What is a zoonotic disease?

A zoonotic disease is a disease that transfers from animals to humans. These diseases can be caused by things like bacteria and viruses. In some cases these diseases can make both animals and humans sick, but sometimes they can occur naturally in animals with little to no effect on them.

What are coronaviruses?

These are a large family of viruses that commonly occur in people, other mammals, and birds. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people. The CDC has more information.

What is the difference between SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19?

SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes the illness called COVID-19. Another example is HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

How did SARS-CoV-2 transfer to people?

Public health experts do not know how SARS-CoV-2 transferred from animals to humans, but now that the virus is spreading directly between people, it has caused a global pandemic. Horseshoe bats in China have coronaviruses that are genetically similar to SARS-CoV-2 but, to date, it has not been found in bats or other wild animals. It’s true origin remains a mystery. Based on current knowledge, this virus likely passed through another animals and mutated before it jumped to humans. Experts think this likely occurred in a wildlife market, or wet market, in China where lots of different wildlife and humans are in close contact, making it easier for animals and humans to share viruses.

Do all bats carry SARS-CoV-2?

At this time, SARS-CoV-2 has not be found in bats or other wild animals. Researchers and public health experts continue to look for the original source of the virus causing COVID-19. Coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 have been found in horseshoe bats in Asia. Horseshoe bats are “Old World” bats and are very different from the species of bats that live in North America. More than 1,300 species of bats live around the world making up 20 percent of mammal species. In the National Park System, there are around 47 species of bats, and SARS-CoV-2 has not been detected in any of them.

Can people catch COVID-19 from bats?

Probably not since humans are unlikely to come into contact with bats and none of the bat species in North America are known to have the virus that causes COVID-19. Close contact with a person who is infected is thought to be the main way that COVID-19 spreads. The CDC has up to date information on how to protect yourself from COVID-19.

What should I do if I see a bat?

If the bat is flying by in the evening, eating moths and other insects, enjoy watching it! But if you see a bat during the day, lying on the ground or roosting in a building, avoid touching the bat. It is important to never touch a bat, to protect the bat and you. Always call your Local Bat Experts for help.

What is the National Park Service doing?

We continue our mission to protect and conserve bats. These incredible mammals already face serious challenges. White-nose syndrome has devastated many bat populations and windenergy development affects other bats. Bats provide many essential functions for healthy natural areas, like eating insects and pollinating plants.

For more information about bats, coronaviruses, and zoonotic disease, Bat Conservation International is a great resource. Also check out the Global Union of Bat Diversity Networks.

Last updated: June 23, 2020


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