RITM, UPLB, Duke NUS, USU, and Massey University secure collaboration with LGUs; commence bat biosurveillance project
The Bat Biosurveillance Team composed of Principal Investigator Dr. Fedelino F. Malbas (1st row from bottom, 2nd from left), Project Leader and Co-Investigator Mr. Philip Aviola, MSc. (1st row from bottom, 1st from left), Dr. Mary Grace Dacuma (1st row from bottom, 4th from left), Research Associates Ms. Samantha Magsanoc (2nd row from bottom, 2nd from right), Mr. Kirk Taray (2nd row from bottom, 3rd from right), Mr. JJ Garcia (2nd row from bottom, 1st from right), Mr. Dustin Amigo (2nd row from bottom, 5th from right), and Science Research Specialist I Ms. Mary Glazel Noroña-Biocarles (2nd row from bottom, 6th from right), together with the Quezon Province Infanta Mayor Ms. Filipina Grace America (middle) and officers from the Municipal Health Office, Tourism Office, and Agricultural Office.

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), together with the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), Duke NUS, Uniformed Services University (USU) and Massey University has secured their collaboration with identified Local Government Units (LGUs) in the conduct of the project entitled, “Informing biosurveillance: Contribution of pteropodid fruits bats to virus spillover in the Philippines,” this May 2023.

The municipalities of Doña Remedios Trinidad in Bulacan, and Tayabas, Burdeos, and Infanta in Quezon Province signed a prior informed consent signifying their agreement to participate and serve as sampling sites in the five-year study.

Specifically, the study aims to characterize and identify the viruses harbored by pteropodid bats and assess the risk of these bat-borne viruses’ spillover to incidental hosts – livestock and humans.

Pteropodid bats or fruit bats are known to be natural reservoirs of viruses. Some bat-borne viruses cause SARS-COV-2, Ebola, Nipah, and other diarrheal and respiratory infections. In fact, pteropodid bats were reported to be the source of infection that caused the Henipavirus outbreak in the Philippines back in 2014. These bats spread viruses through contaminated pasture or feed via their urine, feces, and other excretions.

“There remains an extensive knowledge gap about the viruses being carried by Philippine bats. It is crucial that we identify what these diseases are, so we can strategically plan and develop initiatives that would prevent the transmission of these viruses from animals to humans,” said Co-Investigator for the Philippines and RITM Special Pathogens Laboratory (SPL) Head Dr. Catalino Demetria.

For the first two (2) years of the study, samples from bats, livestock, and humans will be collected from the sampling sites. These will then be processed through nucleic acid detection and serology testing at RITM laboratories.

Data gathered and analyzed from the study will be beneficial for risk analysis of viral spillover events, development of health-based policies and surveillance platforms, and enhancement of good farm husbandry practices.

“Diseases transmitted from animals to humans or what we call zoonotic diseases continue to be one of the threats to global health. We need to prevent, detect, and control the emergence and re-emergence of these infectious diseases through coordinated and collaborative action of multiple sectors,” said Principal Investigator for the Philippines and RITM Veterinary Research Department Head Dr. Fedelino Malbas Jr.

Once clearances to ensure the safety and welfare of the research participants and live animals in the study are granted by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), actual sample collection will commence this June.