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Bats and human health


Almost three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases in humans come from animals (zoonotic). But did you know that we don’t know the origin of many them?

The only way to protect human health, and the related impact on society and the economy, is to learn about the organisms behind these illnesses – as the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic proved. Ebola led to more than 11 000 deaths, and created social and economic havoc in West Africa. Globally, the epidemic resulted in an estimated cost of more than $32 billion!


At the Zoonoses Research Unit in the Department of Medical Virology, Wanda Markotter, Associate Professor, has been studying viruses and other pathogens linked to bats and other small mammals, such as rodents, sengi and shrews. More specifically, she looks at how these organisms interact with humans.

Prof Markotter, who is also the SARChi Chair in Animal Infectious Diseases (Zoonoses), explains that bats in particular host a suite of viruses that can have severe public health consequences. Her work includes surveying these and other small animals to investigate the prevalence of pathogens, and to identify risk factors that could lead to them ‘spilling over’ to humans.

Ultimately, this research will lead to preventing and controlling illness by formulating public health recommendations and developing preventive strategies or interventions – both locally and internationally.


As part of a long-term project monitoring South African bat populations, Prof Markotter’s work has already shown the presence of rabies-related lyssa, paramyxo, corona and filo viruses in South African bats for the first time.

She adds: “Looking ahead, my research will focus on the complete ecosystem instead of just pathogens and specifically investigating factors responsible for spill-over to humans. This will enable us to make more informed decisions about disease control and prevention.”

For more information, contact Prof Markotter on: [email protected]

For an overview of her research: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Wanda_Markotter

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