30th June 2020

[UPDATED 22/07/20 with link to IUCN BSG MAP Decision Tree - see below.]

We don’t yet know whether humans can pass SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) to animals in the wild. There have been a number of cases where dogs, cats (both domestic pets and big cats in a zoo) and mink have tested positive for the virus following close contact with owners/handlers, who were known or suspected to have had COVID-19. So wildlife researchers are taking appropriate precautions until scientists understand more about transmission risks from humans to other animals.

The IUCN Bat Specialist Group (IUCN BSG) has published its ‘Recommended Strategy for Researchers to Reduce the Risk of Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from Humans to Bats – MAP: Minimize, Assess, Protect’. This guidance has been produced by a global panel (including contributors from the UK) with expertise ranging from bat ecology to virology. In preparing the guidance for bat researchers the panel assessed the available scientific evidence for human-to-bat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and the efficacy of risk mitigation strategies.

The IUCN BSG panel found the risk of human-to-bat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to be credible, especially in countries with high levels of SARS-CoV-2 circulation. However, they also determined that this risk can be reduced using appropriate mitigation strategies. The IUCN recommend that any bat researchers consider three key elements when planning their work: Minimize, Assess, Protect (MAP) to prevent transmission to bats (see the ‘MAP for Bats’ infographic below). The full guidance document is available on the IUCN website. To support anyone considering whether it is essential bat activities go ahead, the IUCN BSG have also produced a MAP Decision Tree flow-chart to help with planning and the questions that need to be asked about activities that involve handling or being in close proximity to bats.

IUCN Bat Specialist Group recommended strategy for bat researchers during COVID-19 pandemic

The IUCN BSG is continuing to work on guidance for other stakeholders globally. At the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) we are working on updating our guidance for bat rehabilitators and producing specific guidance for bat groups undertaking survey work that involves being in close proximity to bats in their roosts or handling bats. In the meantime BCT’s general advice continues to be that if bat work, that involves handling bats or being in close proximity to roosting bats, is essential and cannot be postponed, it can continue if good disease risk management practices, including appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and appropriate social distancing (in line with Government guidance) are implemented. All other bat work should be postponed. During the ongoing global shortages of some elements of PPE we recommend the suspension of any bat survey activities that require equipment to be purchased which is in short supply, where the priority must be for use in the NHS and by other key workers.

Please remember that everyone should follow the NHS guidance on self-isolation if they or a member of their family is showing any signs of COVID-19, they should not be leaving their home for any reason, and certainly not undertaking any form of bat survey for any reason or handling animals (including any bats in care).

The COVID-19 pandemic remains a dynamic situation with new information becoming available on an almost daily basis. We will continue to work with the relevant Government Agencies and other advisors to keep our information as update to date as is reasonably possible.