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By catching bats, these “virus hunters” want to stop the next pandemic




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Los Banos — Researchers in headlamps and suits compete to unravel the claws and wings of bats caught in a large net after dark in Laguna, Philippines.

Small animals are carefully placed in cloth bags, removed, measured and wiped. Details are recorded and saliva and feces are collected for analysis before being returned to the wild.

Researchers call themselves “virus hunters”, catching thousands of bats and developing simulation models that will allow the world to avoid a pandemic similar to COVID-19, which killed nearly 2.8 million people. I hope that.

(Open in an external browser to see the picture story of the Philippine bat “Virus Hunter”.)

A Japanese-funded model will be developed by the University of the Philippines Los Banos over the next three years to help bats predict coronavirus dynamics by analyzing factors such as climate, temperature, and spreadability. doing. It contains.

“We’re looking for other coronavirus strains that can infect humans,” said Philip Alviola, an ecologist who is the leader of a group that has been studying bat viruses for over a decade. I am.


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“If you know the virus itself and know where it came from, you know how to geographically isolate the virus.”

In addition to working in the lab, the study involves long field trips, including hours of walking through thick rainforests and unstable night hikes in rocky, tree roots, mud, and moss-covered mountains. Is required.

The group also targets bat roosts in buildings, installs a mist net before dusk to catch bats, and extracts samples with torchlight.

Each bat is held firmly in the head while the researcher inserts a small cotton swab into his mouth and records the wingspan with a plastic ruler, wondering which of the more than 1,300 bats and 20 families is most susceptible to infection. Find out why.

Catastrophic impact

Researchers wear protective clothing, masks, and gloves when coming into contact with bats as a precaution against catching the virus.

“I’m really scared these days,” said Edison Koshiko, who supports Alviola. “I don’t know if bats are already carriers.

“What we are looking for is to find out if there are other viruses that can infect humans from bats. I don’t know if the following are like COVID.”

The majority of those captured are horseshoe-shaped bats known to carry the coronavirus, including the closest known relatives of the new coronavirus.

Horseshoe-shaped bats appear in two scenarios by World Health Organization experts investigating the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.


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Host species, such as bats, usually show no symptoms of pathogens, but can cause catastrophic damage when infected with humans or other animals.

Deadly viruses from bats include Ebola virus and other coronaviruses, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Bat ecologist Kirk Talay said the closer interaction between human exposure and wildlife has increased the risk of disease transmission like never before.

“Obtaining baseline data on the nature and outbreak of a potential zoonotic virus in bats can somehow predict the likelihood of an outbreak.”

(Written by Martin Petty, edited by Karishma Singh)


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