Cambodian bat researchers on a mission to trace the origin of COVID-19


STUNG TRENG, Cambodia, Sept. 20 (Reuters) – Researchers are collecting samples from bats in northern Cambodia to understand the coronavirus pandemic and are returning to an area where a very similar virus was found in animals a decade ago .

Two samples of horseshoe bat were collected in 2010 in the province of Stung Treng near Laos and stored in freezers at the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC) in Phnom Penh.

Tests done on them last year revealed a close relative of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 4.6 million people worldwide.

An eight-member IPC research team has been collecting samples from bats for a week and recording their species, gender, age and other details. Similar research is ongoing in the Philippines. Continue reading

“We hope the outcome of this study can help the world better understand COVID-19,” field coordinator Thavry Hoem told Reuters as she held a net to catch bats.

Host species such as bats do not usually show symptoms of disease, but these can be devastating if transmitted to humans or other animals.

Dr. Veasna Duong, director of virology at IPC, said his institute had made four such trips in the past two years in hopes of clues as to the origin and evolution of the bat-borne virus.

“We want to find out if the virus is still there and … know how the virus has developed,” he told Reuters.

Deadly viruses that come from bats include Ebola and other coronaviruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

However, Veasna Duong said that humans are responsible for the devastation caused by COVID-19 due to disruption and destruction of natural habitats.

“If we try to be around wildlife, the chances that the virus will be transmitted from wildlife are greater than normal. The chances of the virus transforming to infect people are also greater, ”he said.

The France-funded project will also look at how wildlife trafficking could play a role, said Julia Guillebaud, a research engineer at the IPC’s virology division.

“(The project) aims to provide new knowledge about the game meat trade chains in Cambodia, to document the diversity of beta coronaviruses circulating through these chains and to develop a flexible and integrated early detection system for viral spill-over events,” said Gillebaud.

Report by Cindy Liu in Stung Treng and Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Arrangement by Martin Petty and Andrew Heavens

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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