South Africa: Virus Hunters

In the wake of the spread of the Zika virus, experts in South Africa are going to great lengths to track down bats carrying disease. Bats are known to be the source of more than 100 viruses -- including Ebola.

David McKenzie went underground with researchers in Johannesburg to see the team in action.


--REPORTER PKG-AS FOLLOWS--

THE HAZMAT SUITS AND RESPIRATORS MAKE FOR A DIFFICULT DESCENT…BUT ITS MUCH NEEDED PROTECTION AGAINST WHAT WE COULD FIND IN THE CAVE BELOW…WE'RE FOLLOWING SOME OF THE WORLD'S MOST HIGHLY TRAINED VIRUS HUNTERS… IN SEARCH OF DISEASE CARRYING BATS…

AND IN THIS CAVE THERE ARE THOUSANDS...SO THEY HAVE TO CRAWL THROUGH THE NARROW GAPS INTO THE DIFFERENT CHAMBERS BECAUSE IN EACH CHAMBER THERE COULD BE DIFFERENT TYPE OF BATS, WHICH CAN CARRY DIFFERENT TYPES OF VIRUSES.

AND IN THIS CAVE THERE ARE THOUSANDS. EACH ONE WITH THE POTENTIAL TO CARRY RABIES, MARBURG, PERHAPS EVEN EBOLA… SOME OF THE WORLD'S MOST SEVERE, BUT LEAST UNDERSTOOD VIRUSES…

(Wanda Markotter, University of Pretoria) "Even with Ebola there is not a direct link between a human outbreak and the bats. We see some evidence from the bats and we see human outbreaks but we can't say that outbreak caused the human outbreak. So, so much is still unknown? Yes, a lot is still unknown."

SO THEY STUDY DISEASES HERE… IN BAT POPULATIONS BEFORE POTENTIAL HUMAN OUTBREAKS…THIS ISN'T SOME REMOTE CAVE… OUTSIDE JUST MILES AWAY….JOHANNESBURG… A CITY OF FOUR MILLION…

SO CLOSE TO HUMAN HABITATION…MAKES THIS TYPE OF MONITORING AND PREVENTION … CRITICAL.

(JT Paweska, National Institute for Communicable Diseases) "In this lab we are working with the most dangerous pathogens known to humans."

DISEASE DETECTION THAT EXISTS THANKS TO THIS… A FULLY ENCLOSED PRESSURIZED SAFETY LAB… THE ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND IN AFRICA…

WHERE THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF PRECAUTION MUST BE TAKEN TO SEAL OFF THE EXPERIMENTS AND DIAGNOSTICS… RESEARCHERS MUST TRAIN FOR A YEAR JUST TO STEP INSIDE.

HERE THEY AREN'T SURPRISED AT THE RECENT OUTBREAK OF ZIKA, A VIRUS ONCE THOUGHT TO BE REMOTE AND ISOLATED…

(Nancy Knight, Country Director CDC) "We have a global world. So these emerging viruses while we may find them here in Africa, they may impact the populations here, the people here and the animals here and they may impact populations in other countries."

OUTSIDE THE CAVE, BLOOD AND SALIVA SAMPLES ARE TAKEN AND THE BATS ARE MARKED BEFORE BEING RELEASED...

BACK INTO AN ENVIRONMENT THAT SEEMS INCREASINGLY PRIMED FOR OUTBREAKS…DAVID MCKENZIE CNN, GROOTBOOM CAVE, SOUTH AFRICA.

Instructional Links

Online Reference Book: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Microbiologists

http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/microbiologists.htm

Website Article: BBC, South Africa

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14094760

Website Article: Library of Congress, Everyday Mysteries, Why Do Bats Live in Cave

https://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/bats.html

Website Article: World Health Organization, Zika Virus Fact Sheet

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/

 

Support Provided By

More Wcpn Schedule
More Wclv Schedule
Schedule
Donate
90.3 WCPN
WCLV Classical 104.9
NPR Hourly Newscast
The Latest News and Headlines from NPR
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.