Amongst the 60 viral species reported to be associated with bats, 59 are RNA viruses, which are potentially important in the generation of emerging and re-emerging infections in humans. The prime examples of these are the lyssaviruses and Henipavirus. The transmission of Nipah, Hendra and perhaps SARS coronavirus and Ebola virus to humans may involve intermediate amplification hosts such as pigs, horses, civets and primates, respectively. Understanding of the natural reservoir or introductory host, the amplifying host, the epidemic centre and at-risk human populations are crucial in the control of emerging zoonosis. The association between the bat coronaviruses and certain lyssaviruses with particular bat species implies co-evolution between specific viruses and bat hosts. Cross-infection between the huge number of bat species may generate new viruses which are able to jump the trans-mammalian species barrier more efficiently. The currently known viruses that have been found in bats are reviewed and the risks of transmission to humans are highlighted. Certain families of bats including the Pteropodidae, Molossidae, Phyllostomidae, and Vespertilionidae are most frequently associated with known human pathogens. A systematic survey of bats is warranted to better understand the ecology of these viruses. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.