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Bats and Viruses in Western Asia: A Model for One Health Surveillance using Research Networks



Establishing a regional network on bat research. Objective 1: Characterize bat and bat associated coronaviruses in Western Asia to assess risk of disease emergence. Objective 2: Establish the Western Asia Bat Research Network (WAB-Net) to foster regional collaboration.
Kevin J. Olival1 †, Kendra Phelps1*, Nisreen Alhmoud2, Shahzad Ali3, Rasit Bilgin4, Keti Sidamonidze5, Lela Urushadze5, Luke Hamel1and William Karesh1
Bats and Viruses in Western Asia:
A Model for One Health Surveillance using Research Networks
* Presenting author;Please direct questions to
1EcoHealth Alliance - New York, USA; 2Royal Scientific Society - Amman, Jordan; 3University of
Veterinary & Animal Sciences - Lahore, Pakistan; 4Boğaziçi University – Istanbul, Turkey; 5R. Lugar
Center, NCDC - Tbilisi, Georgia
The project is fully funded by the Department of the Defense - Defense Threat Reduction
Agency. The content of the information does not necessarily reflect the position or the
policy of the federal government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.
ØBats are extremely diverse (1,300+ species globally), highly mobile,and
ecologically and economically important wildlife
ØBats host viral zoonoses (e.g. Marburg virus, Nipah virus, SARS-CoV), but
knowledge of bat-associated viruses is limited in some parts of the world
ØTo fill the research gap in Western Asia, EcoHealth Alliance launched a new
collaborative One Health research project that leverages regional expertise
to characterize bat and coronavirus (CoV) diversity and potential bat-human
interfaces to assess the risk of bat-associated disease emergence
ØThis project aims to support local biosurveillance capacity in partner
countries and identify win-win solutions to promote bat conservation and
safeguard human and wildlife health in a politically volatile region
Through our recently established project (WAB-Net), we strive to accomplish
the following outcomes:
Objective 1: Characterize bat and bat-
associated CoVs in Western Asia to assess
risk of disease emergence
ØCapture and non-lethally sample 5,000
bats in 5-year period (2018-2023)
ØCollect 20,000 samples (i.e. oral, rectal
swabs and/or feces, and blood) (Fig 2) and
screen for CoVs using consensus PCR at
regional labs in Georgia and Jordan
ØRecord morphological and demographic
traits (e.g., species, age, sex, reproductive
status, body condition) of sampled bats
ØAssess environmental and human
disturbance data to identify interactions
between humans and bats at sampled
ØData will be used to estimate the risk of
regional disease emergence by:
1) identifying correlates of CoV
diversity and distribution (e.g., host
diversity or traits, site conditions)
2) characterizing interactions between
humans and bats (e.g., cave tourism,
guano collection, hunting)
Expected Outcomes
Introduction Results
ØStrengthen diagnostic capabilities for early
detection, and promote collaborations in
zoonotic disease research
ØHost annual workshops, in-service training
opportunities, and One Health research
exchanges to provide field-to-lab training in
disease surveillance to WAB-Net members
Objective 2: Establish the Western Asia Bat
Research Network (WAB-Net) to foster
regional collaboration
ØIntegrate host ecology and disease
surveillance to find win-win solutions that
promote bat conservation and safeguard
public and wildlife health in a politically
volatile region
ØInaugural WAB-Net workshop was held
on September 17-20, 2018 in Tbilisi,
Georgia with 40 participants from 11
countries in Western Asia (Fig 4)
We have achieved the following since the projects inception (Oct 2017):
R. Lugar Center -NCDC
Tbilisi, Georgia
Royal Scientific Society
Amman, Jordan
ØLeverage regional expertise to
strengthen One Health research to
more rapidly detect, diagnose, and
respond to emerging infectious
ØFoster scientific collaboration among
bat biologists, public health
specialists, and virologists across
Western Asia
ØDevelopment of a relational
database to collate and share
project data:
ØImprove understanding of the
distribution and abundance of bat
species and their associated viruses
in Western Asia
“Bats for Peace” mission
Figure 1. Existing bat research networks, Kingston et al. (2015)
doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-25220-9_17
ØBat research networks exist
in most regions of the
world (Fig 1), including
Southeast Asia (Southeast
Asian Bat Conservation
Research Unit, SEABCRU),
Latin America (RELCOM),
Europe (Eurobats), and
Africa (Bat Conservation
ØHowever, current bat
research in the Middle East
and Western Asia is highly
fragmented and largely
ØPromote awareness of both bat
conservation and zoonotic disease
spillover risk, and provide hands-on
capacity building workshops (Fig 6)
Figure 3. WAB-Net participant countries. High-engagement
countries, with more intensive sampling efforts, represent
biogeographic ‘gateways’ for bat and bat-associated pathogen
Rhinolophus mehelyi,
vulnerable species
Plecotus christii,
data deficient species
lacking basic ecology
& distribution data
© Bruce Thompson
ØA regional One Health initiative to connect
bat researchers and virologists with public
health experts in > 12 countries (Fig 3)
Figure 4. Participants at 2018 WAB-Net workshop
Figure 4. Non-lethal sampling (i.e., oral and rectal
swabs, feces, and blood) of captured bats
Figure 2. Collecting saliva
samples from
Miniopterus schreibersii
in Turkey using a
miniature cotton swab,
then sample is placed in
vials with transport
media and stored in ultra-
cold cryoshipper
(no. sampled/country) Turkey Georgia Jordan
schreibersii 30 78 0
capaccinii 15 0 0
blythii 080
blasii 17 1 0
euryale 27 2 0
Rhinolophus ferrumequinum
cystops 002
microphyllum 0 0 60
Rousettus aegyptiacus
0 0 28
ØIdentified key personnel and sampling
sites in high-and medium-engagement
ØStandardized field and lab protocols to
ensure region-wide consistency in CoV
sampling and screening methods
ØSampled 270 bats (of 9 species) in three high-
engagement countries: 90 individual bats in Turkey
(Aug), Georgia (Sept), and Jordan (Oct) (Fig 5)
Figure 5. Non-lethal sampling of bats
Figure 6. Hands-on training in non-lethal
capture and sampling protocols
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