All animals, humans and bats included, harbor viruses, many of which have evolved within a particular species and do not cause those animals to get sick. Some bats have coronaviruses, and humans do as well, as do other animals. Researchers have found that a coronavirus like the one infecting humans as COVID-19 is found in a bat species, but it's still not similar enough to infect humans. Recent research indicates that, all being equal, the number of human-infecting viruses in bats is similar to those found in other mammals (Mollentze and Streicker, 2020).
Danger arises when viruses jump from one species to another, as the new species may not have developed an immune response to this new-to-them virus. This kind of “spillover” event is historically rare, but there’s a good chance that increased human activity and populations will create more chances for spillovers to occur. How? In two main ways:
1. When humans bring species together in markets or encroach on wildlife habitat, there is a greater chance for cross-species transmission of viruses.
2. Habitat disturbance can stress animals, potentially making them more susceptible to viruses and/or produce viruses in greater numbers.
This means that the best way to keep people safe is to respect wildlife and their natural habitats. Are we up to that challenge? I hope so!