Dynamics of human-bat interactions: implications for potential transmission of coronavirus infection in Kwamang, Forikrom and Buoyem rural communities in Ghana

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Evidence of Coronavirus in two species of cave dwelling insectivorous bats: Hipposideros aff. ruber and Nycteris cf. gambiensis has been confirmed in Ghana. This raises questions about human health risks since it is unknown whether this virus would potentially cause a zoonotic disease in humans. Human interactions, including livelihood practices that bring people into contact with cave bats are poorly documented. The study had a social survey design. Data was collected using focus group discussions; direct observations; face-to-face interviews with structured questionnaires and a review of available published/unpublished documents. A total of 1274 respondents were interviewed; Buoyem (412), Forikrom (362) and Kwamang (500) from July 2011 to October 2012. The results highlight the existence of human associations with bats, which have the potential to spread zoonotic diseases through complex contact networks. Sources of human-contact with bats identified include caves, farms, homes and schools. Caves were the highest source of contact with bats representing 31%, 45% and 37% in the three communities respectively. Age and gender were major factors that influenced contact with bats at the sources. Community use of bat caves were recreation, religious activities, bat hunting, water fetching, and guano collection. Occurrence of bat exposures included consumption of bat meat, mode of bat hunting and bat bites. Bat consumption was highest among respondents older than 50 years in all the communities representing 95%, 58% and 54% for Buoyem, Forikrom and Kwamang respectively. In Forikrom and Kwamang, men consumed more bat meat than women. Common tools for hunting bats within all three communities were guns, catapult, sticks and hands. Bat bites were highest in Buoyem (24%) followed by Forikrom (2%) and Kwamang (2%). More men than women experienced bat bites at Buoyem and Kwamang. Older respondents and men were the most at risk of bat exposures in all three communities. The study found no association between visiting bat caves and common cold infections. Furthermore, there was no report of any respiratory infections or epidemics from bat bites and bat consumption. As the human-bat interface is essential to the process of potential zoonoses like Coronavirus infection, one of the most important strategies for early detection would be monitoring people who have high exposure to bats. Public education to promote behavioural changes of humans would also enhance the prevention of any potential zoonotic diseases from bats.
Thesis submitted to the School of Graduate Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of the degree of MASTER OF PHILOSOPHY WILDLIFE AND RANGE MANAGEMENT.