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Changing the Narrative on Bats and Rabies

Posted by Gail Keirn, APHIS Legislative and Public Affairs in Animals
Dec 04, 2020
Bats and One Health graphic
Bats are crucial to the wellbeing of our natural ecosystems, but also have the potential to spread disease. APHIS Wildlife Services and the One Health Commission recently sponsored a student infographic contest to help change the narrative on bats.

Lately, when we hear about bats in the news it's often in the context of emerging infectious diseases. Yet, despite potential public health threats, bats are extremely important to the health of our natural ecosystems.

Zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses, are those diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans. To help educate young adults about the importance of bats to our environment, as well as the potential for some bats to transmit zoonoses, such as rabies, USDA Wildlife Services (WS) and the One Health Commission (OHC) recently sponsored an infographic competition among college students. An infographic is a creative collection of images, charts, and minimal text to present data or other information.

“To ensure participating college students had a good understanding of the issues surrounding bats and disease before they started designing their infographics, we developed a 5-minute video explaining the One Health approach and why it is key to addressing wildlife diseases like rabies.” states Alison Barbee, a biological science technician with the rabies research project at the WS National Wildlife Research Center.

The One Health approach emphasizes the interconnectedness of people, animals, and the environment. It also encourages experts from multiple disciplines to work together locally, nationally and globally to achieve the best health for all three. The control of human rabies deaths and exposures through the vaccination of animal reservoirs, such as domestic dogs and terrestrial wildlife, is considered an example of a successful One Health approach. WS, OHC, and other agencies are building upon that success to address concerns about bats and the spread of rabies, as well as other diseases.

“If we are going to successfully manage bat rabies and other novel viruses for the benefit of bats, people and the environment, we need to better understand how these pathogens are maintained and spread in bat populations,” states Barbee. “We also need to effectively communicate that information with others.”

Winning infographic on bats and rabies
Winning infographic on bats and rabies created by Colorado State University graduate student Brooke MacNeill.

The winner of the infographic contest was Brooke MacNeill, a graduate student in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. MacNeill’s infographic focused on the role of bats in the environment, and what is being done to prevent the spread of rabies from wildlife to people. Her design targeted students in grades 6 through 12 and was created in both English and Spanish. She received a $500 cash award and her design was shared with natural resources, public health, and One Health practitioners around the globe.

The runner up was Stephen Nachtsheim a graduate student in Biomedical Communications at the University of Toronto. His design focused on the benefits of bats and their population declines due to various diseases. He received a $100 cash prize.

For more information about USDA efforts to manage rabies in wildlife, please visit the National Rabies Management Program and WS National Wildlife Research Center Rabies Research Project websites.

The One Health Commission is committed to creating synergistic interactions and opportunities between human health, animal health, plant health, and global ecosystem health sectors. The Commission’s Bat Rabies Education Team works to raise awareness about bat rabies in the Americas by promoting health education in a multi-strategic One Health approach.

Category/Topic: Animals