mandag 27. april 2020

The virus hunters who search bat caves to predict the next pandemic

Before entering the cave, the small team of scientists pull on hazmat suits, face masks and thick gloves to cover every inch of their skin. Contact with bat droppings or urine could expose them to some of the world's deadliest unknown viruses. Equipped with headlights, they set their nets up at the entrance of the dark opening overhung with bamboo trees, which is part of a vast system of limestone caves in China's south-western Yunnan province.The Smithsonian Institution carries out bat sampling in Myanmar and Kenya, allowing them to discover 6 new coronaviruses.

Then they patiently wait for dusk. When the sun sets, thousands of bats fly out of the caves, looking for food -- and straight into their nets. The scientists collect the nets and carefully put the bats to sleep with a mild anesthetic, before delicately extracting blood from a vein on their wings. "We also carry out oral and faecal swabs and gather droppings," says Peter Daszak, who presides over EcoHealth Alliance, an American NGO which specializes in detecting new viruses and pandemic prevention.