Can Virus Hunters Stop The Next Pandemic Before it Happens?

January 25, 2018

Last summer, Dr. Kevin Olival joined a group of Indonesian hunters as they ventured deep into the mangrove forests of South Sulawesi island. The hunters were looking for roosting bats, mainly fruit bats and flying foxes—for them, a lucrative prize that can be shipped to villages in the north as part of the bushmeat trade. For Olival, the bats were a prize of a different sort.

Olival is a virus hunter. For more than 15 years, the ecologist and evolutionary biologist has scoured the globe for samples from animals that harbor some of the scariest undiscovered viruses as part of the global nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance. His goal: to find the next undiscovered virus in animals that harbors the ability to jump to humans and cause the next killer pandemic.

He and his team are in Indonesia for two weeks, swabbing feces, urine and saliva and taking blood samples from bats; freezing them in liquid nitrogen; and shipping them to an Indonesian laboratory for testing. EcoHealth Alliance is partnering with a larger collaboration known as USAID PREDICT, a $200 million global project aimed at detecting, preventing, and controlling infectious emerging diseases before they become full-blown pandemics.

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