Nuisance Bat Encounters – Temporary Prohibition on Release of Bats

April 28, 2020


Nuisance bat
encounters – Temporary Prohibition on release of bats


Dear Licensee:


As state, federal,
and local governments respond to the human effects of SARS-CoV-2 virus and the
COVID-19 pandemic, the wildlife management community is working to understand
and address potential risks and impacts to wildlife species.


The current
COVID-19 pandemic (caused by the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2) has raised the
question about the possibility of reverse zoonotic transmission of the virus
from infected people to bats. This is a reasonable question because SARS-CoV-2
is believed to have come from Chinese horseshoe bats either directly or through
an intermediate host. Since SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus in North America we
have no data on whether our native bat species are susceptible to infection,
whether they would be affected (morbidity or mortality), or if they could act
as a reservoir of the virus. Concern is warranted because North American bat
species are known to harbor several other Coronaviruses. As of April 27, 2020,
routine testing for humans is not readily available nor has testing for
wildlife, including bats, been validated. Bat species have a higher risk of
disease spread because they are long-lived and many of them roost in dense
colonies and can fly great distances (as evident by the recent rapid geographic
spread of White Nose Syndrome).


At this time, we
are seeking the cooperation of and partnership with the Nuisance Wildlife
Control Operator licensees (NWCO) so that we can reduce the potential risk of
infecting wild bat populations with SARS-CoV-2 virus.


Out of an abundance of caution, DEC
biologists, along with many other wildlife management agencies, have currently
suspended activities that involve close contact with bats.  This includes closing off access to all
hibernacula under our jurisdiction, ceasing current DEC activities involving
close contact with bats, and denying research applications which involve
trapping or handling of bats.


Consistent with
these actions and following recommendations of Association of Fish and Wildlife
Agencies (AFWA), DEC is implementing a complete prohibition on the release
of any bats that may be encountered by NWCO’s until further notice.
These
restrictions will remain in effect, or be updated, pending risk assessment
based on experiments or surveys to determine the susceptibility of North
American bats to SARS-CoV-2 infection.


For any bats you
may encounter in a residence, please continue to follow the already established
best practices including all Rabies Vector Species protocols as well as any
directives from local health departments.


In addition, it is
recommended that individual bats captured in homes or other dwellings be
humanely euthanized since there is currently no protocol to determine that the
captured bat was exposed to SARS-CoV-2. It is not recommended that maternity
colonies in homes or other artificial structures be euthanized. Use of metal
bat traps or cages to catch multiple bats should be discouraged because it
could be difficult to adequately decontaminate after installation. Any
potential rabies exposures cases should continue to follow the process
currently in place in each county.


For
now, we are contacting you to ensure that no bats are released to the wild
in order to
reduce the potential risk of infecting wild populations with SARS-CoV-2 virus.


The National
Wildlife Health Center has provided the following recommendations for the use
of personal protective equipment when handling bats:


  • A
    face mask can be worn to block or minimize the exchange or respiratory
    droplets. An N95 respirator is ideal, but this type of mask requires
    professional assessment for a proper fit. Alternatives may include use of a
    surgical mask or dust mask. (DEC note: currently N95 masks are being directed
    to those in the health care field);
  • Disposable
    exam gloves or other reusable gloves (e.g. rubber dish washing gloves) that can
    be decontaminated can be used to prevent spread of pathogens between animals, from
    animals to humans, or vice versa;
  • Washable
    or disposable coveralls, or a change in clothing and footwear, can be used to
    prevent movement of pathogens between sites


Additionally,
we recommend that you immediately implement enhanced protection measures
including: more frequent disinfection of bat-related care items, keeping bats
that you may handle away from people as much as possible, and routine
decontamination of all surfaces frequently touched by humans are a few simple
steps you can implement now as more guidance is being developed. The health of
our native bats—already under siege from white-nose syndrome—depends on all of
us to do our best to keep them safe during this pandemic.


Please contact us
at SpecialLicenses@dec.ny.gov if you have any
questions concerning nuisance bat response or the potential impacts of the
SARS-CoV-2 virus on bats.


Additional resources can be found at:


U.S.G.S
National Wildlife Health Center


https://www.usgs.gov/centers/nwhc/science/wildlife-health-bulletins?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects


U.S.
Centers for Disease Control


https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#animals