In a bid to trace the murky origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, that causes COVID-19, scientists in Thailand have been trekking through the countryside to catch bats in their caves. Initial research has hinted to bats as the source of the deadly virus that has infected more than 20.5 million people and claimed lives 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 scientists said they have not yet been tested for the deadly disease.
Thai scientists went up to a hill in Sai Yok National Park in the western province of Kanchanaburi and set up nets to trap around 200 bats from three different caves.
The team from the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Diseases-Health Science Center took blood, saliva, and stool samples from the bats and the released 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.
Supaporn Wacharapluesadee, the center’s deputy chief, is heading the team. She has studied bats and diseases associated with them for more than 20 years. Supaporn 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. The disease can travel with bats. It could go anywhere,” she said.
The disease was first reported in China’s Wuhan late last year and has now spread in almost every country of the world.