Do Philippine bats bear coronavirus?

The lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic brought by a highly contagious virus that is believed to have originated from bats led Filipino researchers to assess what kind of pathogens exist in bats thriving in the Philippines.

But this is not a new research intervention in the country. In fact, the team of Dr. Lyre Murao of UP Mindanao conducted a study as early as 2018, with the premise that: since coronaviruses and leptospires have been detected in bats, their zoonotic nature must be investigated. With Mindanao as a biodiversity hotspot, the research team sought what kind of coronaviruses and leptospires lurk in the Philippine wildlife.

By hunting for pathogens in local fruit bats of Davao City, and conducting bat surveys following standard protocols in selected areas in Malagos, the team detected coronaviruses in seven (14%) of the 49 fruit bats collected, all from the lesser short-nosed fruit bat, and leptospires from one bat (2%) identified as Rousettus amplexicaudatus or the Geoffroy’s Rousette. 

This finding, however, is not a point of concern, as the detected coronaviruses and leptospires were found to be distantly related to their human counterparts.

Although this is a good sign, we must not be complacent, as these bats were commonly found in residential, agricultural, and tourist areas thereby inviting potential exposure to humans. Hence, the next step is to sustain wildlife monitoring of pathogens which can be integrated into the pandemic preparedness program of the Philippines by serving as a risk-assessment tool for zoonotic outbreaks,” said Dr. Murao, head of the research team.

Funded and supported by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) through its Regional Research Fund (RRF) program and through the Region 11 Health Research and Development Consortium (RHRDC XI), the team, through its similar efforts, also advocates for the One Health paradigm where promoting a healthy nature is tantamount to healthy people.

As part of the Council’s efforts to encourage new researchers to be actively involved in health research activities without having to compete with more experienced researchers, RRF projects like this research are intended to increase the capabilities of individual researchers in designing, implementing, and managing health research projects.

The research was conceptualized and implemented with the help of Assoc.Prof. Aleyla E. De Cadiz, Asst. Prof. Marion John Michael M. Achondo, Michael G. Bacus, and Marielle M. Udarbe of UP Mindanao- and in collaboration with Professor Sharon Yvette Angelina M. Villanueva of the University of the Philippines Manila and Dr. Roberto P. Puentespina, Jr. of Animal Solutions Veterinary Hospital.