Even when it’s not Halloween, Simon Anthony, PhD, spends a lot of time with bats.
When Dr. Anthony isn’t in his office in the School’s Center for Infection and Immunity, he is circling the globe in search of deadly microbes. For the past year, he and a research team have gotten up close and personal with the Amazon rain forest, the most bio-diverse area on the planet. Huge anaconda and other poisonous snakes, jaguars, crocodiles, piranha, and frightening number of bizarre insects are all part of the scene. And there are the bats, great black clouds of them, representing 40 or so species, some carnivorous. Yes, even the blood-sucking vampire bat (see picture).
The real fright isn’t the bats, but what they carry. A single bat can be infected with as many as 50 viruses, some which have the sinister ability to “jump” across species and infect humans. An estimated 75% of emerging infectious diseases in humans come from wildlife, many times from bats. “Bats contain many viruses that infect people,” says Dr. Anthony. “Ebola, SARS, rabies, Nipah virus, Hendra virus: All these came from bats. And it’s a rapidly growing list.”
To learn more about the natural habit of these viruses before they emerge, the research team treks for miles into the dense jungle. Working in the dead of night, they trap bats—which are famously nocturnal—using large nets. Once caught, each animal is carefully brought to a mobile field station (team members all