Thai scientists catch bats to trace virus origins

Posted at 2:58 AM, Aug 13, 2020

Researchers in Thailand have been trekking though the countryside to catch bats in their caves in an effort to trace the murky origins of the coronavirus.

Initial research has already pointed to bats as the source of the virus that has afflicted more than 20.5 million people and caused the deaths of over 748,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The closest match to the coronavirus has been found in horseshoe bats in Yunnan in southern China.

Thailand has 19 species of horseshoe bats but researchers said they have not yet been tested for the new coronavirus.

Thai researchers hiked up a hill in Sai Yok National Park in the western province of Kanchanaburi to set up nets to trap some 200 bats from three different caves.

The team from the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Diseases-Health Science Center took saliva, blood and stool samples from the bats before releasing them. They worked through the night and into the next day, taking samples not only from horseshoe bats but also from other bat species they caught in order to better understand pathogens carried by the animals.

The team was headed by Supaporn Wacharapluesadee, the center’s deputy chief, who has studied bats and diseases associated with them for more than 20 years. He was part of the group that helped Thailand confirm the first COVID-19 case outside China in January.

She believes it is likely they will find in Thailand’s bats the same virus that causes COVID-19.

“The pandemic is borderless,” she said. “The disease can travel with bats. It could go anywhere.”