Virus Hunters

October 01, 2012 11:48 AM: Beatrice Politi, Claude Adams 

Read it on Global News: Global News | Virus Hunters

Deep in the Amazon jungle, Virologist Simon Anthony is following a Brazilian team of scientists and researchers. Their mission is a life-saving one.

“We’re here in the Brazilian Amazon because we know that 75% of emerging infectious diseases in people come from wildlife and the Amazon is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet,” he says.

Anthony is a Columbia University Virologist, also known as a “Virus Hunter”. On this day, the team is out to trap bats that may be carrying some of the deadliest viruses – viruses that could be deadly and could be transmitted to humans.

“What we’re trying to do is discover the next global pandemic, the next HIV, but before it emerges in people,” he says. “What we are doing is studying wildlife during anthropogenic change.”

Anthony works with the New York based Centre for Infection and Immunity, which has already identified over 500 new viruses.

“Of those I would say probably 25 or 30 are extremely important vis a vis causing human disease,” says the CII director, Dr. Ian Lipkin.

But to date scientists have identified fewer than one percent of all viruses that exist.

“We receive about a hundred thousand samples a year. . . .we receive them from all over the world,” says Dr. Lipkin. “The challenge is to work them up efficiently.”

In his lab, Dr. Lipkin must determine if a particular microbe is a virus, if it causes disease and if it’s contagious.

“It’s like criminology,” he says. “You have to have opportunity, motive and so forth. So we then need to prove the link to disease.”

When the SARS outbreak struck a decade ago, it took weeks to identify the virus that caused it. Today, it would only take days, perhaps even hours, in Dr. Lipkin’s lab.

“I think scientists in general are silent superheroes,” he says.

Read it on Global News: Global News | Virus Hunters

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