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Cambodia bat researchers on mission to track origin of COVID-19 By Reuters


© Reuters. An oral swab is taken by a researcher at the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge from a bat caught in Chhngauk Hill. Thala Borivat District of Steung Treng Province. Cambodia. August 30, 2021. REUTERS/Cindy Liu


By Cindy Liu and Prak Chan Thul

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

Two horseshoe bat samples were taken in Stung Treng in Laos in 2010. They were kept at IPC Phnom Penh.

The coronavirus which has affected more than 4 million people around the world was found in their samples.

A team of eight IPC researchers has collected bat samples and kept track of their species, sex and age for the past week. Similar research is going on in the Philippines.

As she set up a net for bat captures, Thavry Hoem, field coordinator of the study said to Reuters: “We hope the result from this research can help the world have a better understanding of COVID-19.”

Host species such as bats typically display no symptoms of pathogens, but these can be devastating if transmitted to humans or other animals.

The Head of Virology, Dr. Veasna duong at the IPC said that his institution had taken four trips to look for evidence about the evolution and origin of bat-borne viruses in the last two years.

According to Dr. Veasna Duong, “We want the virus to be found and… to understand how it has evolved.”

Ebola, along with other coronaviruses like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome are all deadly viruses that bats can transmit.

Veasna duong claimed that COVID-19 was caused by humans, as a result of human interference with natural habitats.

If we attempt to live near wildlife, there are higher chances that the virus will be carried by them. “The chances that the virus will transform to infect people are higher,” he stated.

Julia Guillebaud from the IPC’s research unit on virology, stated that part of the French-funded project is to examine the role the wildlife trade may play in this.

Gillebaud explained that “The project” aims to gather new knowledge about wild meat chains in Cambodia and document the variety of betacoronaviruses found within these chains. It also aims at developing a flexible, integrated early-detection system to detect viral spill-over events.

(Reportin by Cindy Liu in Stung Treng and Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Editing by Martin Petty and Andrew Heavens)

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