Filipino scientists study bats to prevent future pandemics

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 24 2021 10:44 AM | Updated as of Mar 24 2021 10:59 AM

Filipino scientists study bats to prevent future pandemics 1
Kirk Taray, a bat ecologist, detangles a bat caught on a mist net that was set up in front of a building with a bat roost at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB), in Los Banos, Laguna province, Philippines, February 19, 2021. "With the ongoing pandemic, there is more caution taken into consideration while studying bats. Several measures and protocols are established to protect both the researchers and the bats. Also, the community quarantine and travel restrictions added difficulty especially in accessing potential areas of study," said Taray. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

MANILA - A group of Filipino scientists is scouring caves, forests and other sites in the Philippines to collect and study viruses present in bats in a bid to prevent the next pandemic.

The team aims to capture the country's 79 species of bats, which potentially carry viruses that are fatal in humans and livestock, for the next 3 years, bat ecologist Phillip Alviola said.

"As we all know, bats harbor a lot of potentially infectious diseases or viruses. So, what we're trying to do is to determine what are the viruses that are found in these bats and try to develop a simulation model on where the next bat-derived infections will occur in the Philippines," he told ANC Wednesday.

Many experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed over 2.7 million people so far, is linked to bats.

Alviola, an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, said they would compare the viruses to those that triggered the recent epidemics, such as COVID-19, SARS and MERS.

"As of now, we have sampled around 15 to 20 species but we're trying to survey or capture all of them or at least 75 percent of the total number of species," he said.

"The number of individuals we're shooting for is about 1,000 so our model will be very robust. We could present a much clearer or truer picture of the potential areas where viral infections will occur."

Filipino scientists study bats to prevent future pandemics 2
Phillip Alviola, a bat ecologist, take swabs from bats as Kirk Taray notes down information at Mount Makiling in Los Banos, Laguna province, Philippines, March 5, 2021. "The pandemic has provided a more difficult environment to work with but that should not stop science from providing answers and addressing more questions. We do not know when will this current pandemic end and it will only be a matter of time to ask when will the next outbreak might occur," said Taray. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

The team, composed of 15 people, will also explore ecological factors that facilitate virus transmission form bats to humans. The study is funded by universities in Japan and Alviola's team is also seeking supplemental assistance from government agencies in the Philippines.

As precaution against possible infection, the researchers will wear personal protective equipment, masks, googles and gloves. They also sterilized their clothes, conduct symptoms check and sometimes, self-quarantine after field work.

"We've been working with bats for more than 20 years. In essence, we know what to do and all the safety precaution," Alviola said.

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