Genetic diversity, infection prevalence, and possible transmission routes of Bartonella spp. in vampire bats

PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases

Corresponding author: Daniel J. Becker, daniel.becker3@montana.edu

Adapted from a summary provided by Public Library of Science

The bacteria Bartonella causes endocarditis, a possibly lethal illness in humans and livestock. There are large amounts of vampire bats infected with Bartonella in Central and South America, and with their diet consisting of blood, there is a threat that humans and livestock will contract Bartonella. A study by a team including CEID members Daniel Becker and Sonia Altizer found Bartonella infections in vampire bats are very common in Peru and Belize, and Bartonella there is genetically diverse, with a wide distribution area. Throughout a two-year period, the researchers collected samples of blood, saliva, and fecal matter from vampire bats across seven locations in Belize and two in Peru, to see how many bats tested positive for Bartonella.  Researchers identified individual risk factors for infection by analyzing the relationship between bat age, sex, forearm size and reproductive status. Those that had Bartonella underwent further tests to determine possible bacteria transmission routes.

They found 67% of 193 tested bats were carriers of Bartonella. Large male bats had the highest likelihood of infection. The researchers also investigated how Bartonella might spread between individuals. With Bartonella not only being found in blood but in saliva and fecal matter, there is evidence to suggest there may be alternate forms of Bartonella dispersal other than the expected bite. This study provides insight into the genetic diversity of Bartonella and infection rate among vampire bats. However, more research is needed to explain Bartonella transmission from bats to humans.

Becker, D.J., Berger, L.M., Bentz, A.B., Orton, R.J., Altizer, S., & Streicker, D.G. (2018). Genetic diversity, infection prevalence, and possible transmission routes of Bartonella spp. in vampire bats. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 12(9): e0006786. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0006786

Photo Credit: Katie Huang, kah06943@uga.edu