Scientists Warn Research with Exotic Viruses Risks a Deadly Outbreak
A growing number of scientists are questioning high-stakes pathogen work
When the U.S. government was looking for help to scour Southeast Asia’s rainforests for exotic viruses, scientists from Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University accepted the assignment and the funding that came with it, giving little thought to the risks.
Beginning in 2011, Thai researchers made repeated treks every year to remote caves and forests inhabited by millions of bats, including species known to carry diseases deadly to humans. The scientists collected saliva, blood and excrement from the wriggling, razor-fanged animals and the specimens were placed in foam coolers and driven to one of the university’s labs in Bangkok, a metropolis of more than 8 million people.
The goal was to identify unknown viruses that might someday threaten humans. But doubts about the safety of the research began to simmer after the virus hunters were repeatedly bitten by bats and, in 2016, when another worker stuck herself with a needle while trying to extract blood from an animal.
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