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."
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.