Vampire bats might seem like the stuff of nightmares but these blood-drinking mammals exist, and they also spread disease. In Latin America, the bat Desmodus rotundus is the main carrier of rabies, which it transmits when feeding on cattle.
The full impact of vampire bat-transmitted rabies on livestock was not previously known, but the authors of a new PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases study used computer models to calculate detailed estimates for a remote part of Peru. Their analysis was based on farmer questionnaires and national surveillance data for 11 years of vampire bat rabies outbreaks.
The models suggested that there are 4.6 cases of vampire bat rabies for every case that is officially reported, leading to over 500 annual cattle deaths in the study area alone. Animal mortality and vaccination costs were estimated to total over US$300,000 per year – a great sum for impoverished subsistence farmers.
“This estimate, at least four times higher than official reports, is essential in planning and implementing cost-effective measures to prevent and control the disease, which mainly affects low-income, small-scale farmers,” the researchers say.
Their results also indicate that the great distance from farms to reporting offices can be an obstacle to reporting cattle mortality. Since farmers who perceived rabies risk to be higher were more likely to report rabies cases and to vaccinate their livestock, awareness-raising campaigns might help reduce the burden of vampire bat rabies.
Images Credits: Patrick Lentz, Flickr; Julio Benavides, 2017