Philippines takes steps to prevent bat-borne diseases

Filipino scientists are testing bats for coronavirus strains with hopes of preventing another global pandemic.

Video Transcript

JAMELA ALINDOGAN: Local folklore here is steeped with stories of just how mysterious Philippine bats can be. But we are not climbing Mount McKinley to explore legendary tales. These Filipino scientists are testing bats for new strains of coronaviruses. They hope to prevent another global pandemic. Philip Alviola has been recording and testing bats across the country for more than 10 years. The bat species found here on Mount McKinley is the closest genus to the one in one Wuhan, China, where the first case of COVID-19 was recorded.

PHILIP ALVIOLA: Gave us all the more reason to be urgent about doing this virus work. The government, in more ways than one, refocused their priorities on and working on virology and epidemiology.

JAMELA ALINDOGAN: So it's 5:13 local time. The mist nets have been set up, and researchers here tell us any time now, the bats are going to come out of the cave. We stay quiet for a few minutes. The air's cold, and the night's creatures soon start to make their presence felt.

And then, the first bat flies into the trap. Then another and another. The researchers say about 5,000 bats come here during the mating season. Now, they think only a few hundred are left. With the captured bats safely contained, we make our way back from the forest.

The bats are identified, measured, and swabbed before they're released back into the wild. Dr. Alviola and his team of isolated at least seven kinds of viruses over the past decade, including coronavirus and an Ebola virus. They say their work serves as a blueprint that can be used to develop vaccines globally, including those for coronavirus. And they're driven by their belief that every evolution in human history has been made because of a scientist's determination. Jamela Alindogan, Al Jazeera, Manila.