Scientists from Thailand have been hiking in rural areas of the country to capture bats in their caverns, tracing the dark origins of the coronavirus.
Initial studies point to bats as the source of the virus that has infected more than 20.5 million people and killed more than 748,000 worldwide, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The closest match to the coronavirus has been detected in rhinophid bats in Yunnan, southern China. Thailand has 19 species of this family of chiropterans, but scientists point out that they have not yet been studied for the new coronavirus.
Thai researchers climbed a summit in Sai Yok National Park in western Kanchanaburi province to place nets in three caves and capture about 200 bats.
The group of Emerging Contagious Diseases of the Thailand Red Cross and Health Sciences Center took samples of the mammals’ saliva, blood and feces before releasing them. They worked overnight and the next day, taking samples not only of rhinophids but also other species that were trapped in order to better understand the pathogens transmitted by these animals.
The team was led by Supaporn Wacharapluesadee, the center’s deputy head and who for more than 20 years has studied bats and related diseases. She was part of the group that helped Thai authorities confirm the first COVID-19 case outside of China in January.
Wacharapluesadee believes that the same virus that causes COVID-19 is likely to be found in bats in Thailand. “This pandemic has no borders,” he said. “Disease can travel with bats. It could go anywhere. “