Professor On Coronavirus: 'Bats Are Not, Themselves, The Villain'

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Tensions surrounding the 2019 novel coronavirus are high, with the World Health Organization declaring the outbreak a global health emergency on Thursday. It spreads through coughing and sneezing, similar to the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Some online have suggested the virus originated from Chinese people eating bat soup. While outlets have linked this idea to racist beliefs regarding regional Chinese eating habits, others say there is some relation between the virus and bats, as well as other wildlife in general.

Tom Kepler, a Professor of Microbiology at Boston University, says bats are known to carry viruses like the coronavirus and others—but is hesitant to blame the outbreak on them.

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(Getty Images)

He said epidemiologists are still trying to figure out how bats are somehow are "insusceptible" to certain viruses.

"To give one very stark example, there's a virus called Marburg virus, which is in the filovirus family along with Ebola virus," Kepler said. "It's been shown that bats are the natural hosts which means that bats harbor Marburg virus, and Marburg virus replicates within them...but they don't get sick."

In humans, however, Marburg has a high mortality rate.

Kepler said it's too soon to fully understand the correlation between bats and the coronavirus. However, he said the virus is likely linked to bats because this present virus is very similar to the SARS virus from the early 2000s, which was traced back to bats.

"I would be hesitant to say that bats are the cause," Kepler said. "Bats are innocent bystanders, if you like. They have become infected, and others become infected from the bat ... Bats are not, themselves, the villain in this situation and I think I want to avoid making it sound as if we should carry out a sort of struggle or a war against bats for this."

Listen to the entire interview with Kepler below.

WBZ NewsRadio's Laurie Kirby (@LaurieWBZ) reports

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