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Bats are good defenders against mosquito borne disease

By Diana New Summer is the season for outdoor activity and with it comes the yearly return of its favorite blood thirsty villain: the mosquito. With several mosquito borne illnesses that circulate each year and the rising concern of the Zika virus, it is especially important to take precaution in protection against these vexing insects. Though there are many methods to help keep mosquitoes at bay, one of the most natural and cost-efficient methods involves bats. A negative light has been shed on bats due to misconceptions becoming common belief. Though Stephen King’s ‘˜Cujo’ may suggest bats are prone to rabies and pop culture’s vampire stories may suggest bats are aggressive, these beliefs along with other misconceptions are contrary to the animal’s true nature, according to current scientific studies. ’Bats, like any animal, can carry disease. However, smaller animals are less dangerous than larger ones,’ ecologist Charlie Muise stated. ‘Domestic animals can cause worse damage than wild animals as feral cats and dogs are more likely to spread disease.’ A very small percentage of bats are infected with rabies and bats are neither dirty and ridden with lice, nor is their excrement a source of tuberculosis in humans. In fact, bat guano is considered a great fertilizer for plants and soil with its high concentration of nutrients. While bats help the environment through fertilization, pollination and seed dispersion, their most recognizable contribution remains as insect and mosquito control. A single bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour, making them a key benefactor in preventing mosquito borne illness. Mosquitos are not only a nuisance, but also carry some of society’s most deadly illnesses. Millions of deaths are caused by mosquito borne illnesses world wide each year. Though the new Zika virus has been diagnosed mild, requiring no specific treatment, it has still been linked to birth defects according to the Georgia Department of Public Health and should not be taken lightly. Symptoms of Zika involve fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise and headache. Diagnosis can only be confirmed through lab tests. A person sick with Zika should get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids and treat pain and fever with common medicine. Atlanta has been named the top city for mosquitoes by 11 Alive and with updates of the Zika virus spreading throughout the Americas, health officials have urged residents to take precautionary measures to prevent mosquito breeding and nesting. There are many ways to prevent nesting, including dumping out standing water and spraying insecticides, however, bats may add to this process or offer another alternative. Bats will not get rid of all mosquitoes, but they will help keep their population down. Because of their vitality in reducing the mosquito population and their increasing mortality rate due to the fungal infection described as whitenose syndrome, there has been an increase in desire to protect bats and encourage their nesting in yards and gardens. Bat boxes provide a safe and cozy environment for bat colonies with specific designs that work for their needs and also help prevent infestation in homes or attics. ’Bats are generally not intrusive at all. Generally, the only time they can be a problem is when they move into a house or attic looking for a warm, dark, shelter,’ wildlife biologist Jim Ozier said. ‘Putting up a bat box can possibly help keep bats from getting inside the house, and bats are a great thing to have around because of all the insects they eat.’ According to Bat Conservation International, putting up a bat house is statistically safer than planting flowers to attract bees whose stings account for more human fatality than bats. ’People believe bat boxes may attract bats to their property and into their houses, but bat boxes are designed to help house the bats that are already in the area and won’t draw more bats in or cause any harm,’ Muise concluded. Bat boxes can be bought or built but should all follow specific guidelines to ensure habitation. Bat boxes should be located at least 15 feet above the ground and should be installed where it can be exposed to at least 6 hours of sunlight. They can be installed on a tree, a pole or a building. Boxes mounted on poles and buildings with roost chambers at least 20 inches tall and 14 inches wide with a three to six inch landing area extending below the entrances have proven more successful in attracting occupants. Boxes range from holding a dozen bats to colonies of bats. More bats result in less mosquitos and less mosquitos reduce the odds of contracting a mosquito borne illness, stripping bats of their misconceived reputations and naming them defenders against mosquito borne disease.

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