Bats are considered to be the source of the coronavirus pandemic. Researchers on an island in the Baltic Sea are now deliberately infecting the animals with the pathogen. Can they transmit the viruses to humans?
Riems – The small island of Riems in the Baltic Sea is largely a restricted area. The reason is research. Research that is currently highly relevant: The scientists at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute are investigating the transferability of viruses – from animals to humans. This is also how the corona pandemic is said to have developed: Bats are considered to be the source of the pandemic. The scientists are currently deliberately infecting flying foxes, relatives of bats, with the Sars-CoV-2 pathogen. Nothing works here without a protective suit and bite-proof gloves.
The island of corona researchers: Scientists intentionally infect flying foxes with corona
“We infect the fruit bats by dripping a virus into the nose,” explained Anne Balkema-Buschmann, deputy Head of the institute in an interview with the picture. Many different animals live in the institute’s cages and aviaries. They are caught and examined every day.
“We pay attention to possible symptoms and regularly take swab samples in order to be able to draw conclusions about the viral load. After a maximum of two weeks, the animals are euthanized and then dissected. In this way we can find out whether the virus infection has caused organ damage, ”says Balkema-Buschmann. The aim is to find out which animals can become infected and transmit viruses. Therefore, the experts have not only examined bats over the past 14 months. The research also focused on farm animals.
The island of corona researchers: which animals can transmit the coronavirus to humans?
Bats, flying foxes, raccoon dogs and minks: They are considered to be vectors, but do not become ill themselves. Pigs and poultry cannot become infected at all. Conversely, hamsters even develop severe pneumonia infections.
A phenomenon that has already helped the researchers: “Because hamsters can suffer severe disease, they are suitable for testing the effectiveness of drugs. We have also examined the effectiveness of vaccines in various animal groups over the past few months, ”said Thomas Mettenleiter, President of the institute, to the newspaper. New variants can also be checked using animal models. That way you can be more certain how contagious they are.
It is important to note that the researchers do not experiment with unknown mutations. “These are only those variants that are already widespread,” emphasized Mettenleiter.
The island of corona researchers: Nothing works here without protective clothing
“We do not take any risk that pathogens are carried outside from our laboratory,” he said. Older recordings from a virus laboratory in Wuhan only recently emerged. They showed the researchers’ lax approach to hygiene standards. Mettenleiter comments on the incident whether the security measures are “always implemented worldwide – that cannot be judged from the outside”. However, the videos from China are difficult to judge. You need a context to classify the scenes. “You don’t know under what conditions the recordings were made,” said the expert. (chd)
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