Wild vampire bats, thought to exclusively feed on bird blood, have been found feeding on humans for the first time, raising concerns of disease spread, researchers say.
The flying mammals are well known to feed on blood, however, the hairy-legged vampire bat and white-winged vampire bat subspecies predominantly feast on birds.
Scientists in Brazil have discovered that hairy-legged vampire bats have resorted to feeding on humans, sparking fears that the rabies and hantavirus-carrying creatures could cause an increase in disease in humans.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, is a disease carried by rodents which does not affect the host animal. It can be fatal in humans, and has a mortality rate of 38 per cent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Enrico Bernard from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, was “quite surprised” to find traces of human blood in the faeces of a colony of bats living in Catimbau National Park in the north-east of the country.
He believes that the creatures have been sneaking through holes in roofs and feasting on campers and people sleeping outside – perhaps driven by deforestation of their natural hunting grounds.
The team in Brazil are currently investigating how often and at what time people near the park are being bitten, in order to assess the danger.