Bats are a unique group of mammals of the order Chiroptera. They are highly diversified and are the group of mammals with the second largest number of species. Such highly diversified cell types and receptors facilitate them to be potential hosts of a large variety of viruses. Bats are the only group of mammals capable of sustained flight, which enables them to disseminate the viruses they harbor and enhance the chance of interspecies transmission. This article aims at reviewing the various aspects of the global epidemiology of bat coronaviruses (CoVs). Before the SARS epidemic, bats were not known to be hosts for CoVs. In the last 15 years, bats have been found to be hosts of >30 CoVs with complete genomes sequenced, and many more if those without genome sequences are included. Among the four CoV genera, only alphaCoVs and betaCoVs have been found in bats. As a whole, both alphaCoVs and betaCoVs have been detected from bats in Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America and Australasia; but alphaCoVs seem to be more widespread than betaCoVs, and their detection rate is also higher. For betaCoVs, only those from subgenera Sarbecovirus, Merbecovirus, Nobecovirus and Hibecovirus have been detected in bats. Most notably, horseshoe bats are the reservoir of SARS-CoV, and several betaCoVs from subgenus Merbecovirus are closely related to MERS-CoV. In addition to the interactions among various bat species themselves, bat⁻animal and bat⁻human interactions, such as the presence of live bats in wildlife wet markets and restaurants in Southern China, are important for interspecies transmission of CoVs and may lead to devastating global outbreaks.
Keywords: Alphacoronavirus; Betacoronavirus; bat; coronavirus; epidemiology; global; host; interspecies transmission.