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Q&AZ: Are Arizona Bats Disease Reservoirs?

Q&AZ is supported in part by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 likely originated in bats, as did its cousins, which caused the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome and 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome epidemics.

One KJZZ listener wanted to know if bats in Arizona pose a risk.

Angie McIntire is a bat biologist and the statewide bat project coordinator with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. She says bats do not attack people and are safe to observe — although people should avoid picking up wild animals, including bats, which can carry rabies.

Moreover, people should consider the valuable service the flying mammals provide in removing disease vectors.

"Diseases like West Nile and Zika and dengue that mosquitoes carry, and the importance that bats play in the environment with mosquito control as well as other insects," she said. 

Though not a virologist, McIntire is one of the state's foremost bat experts.

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.