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The Ebola-Hunters of Sierra Leone — The Nuclear Angle

18 December 2018
After suffering from a devastating Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leonean veterinary scientists are training their African peers in how to catch, sample and diagnose virus-transmitting bats, with the support of the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). <br /><br />
Scientists are learning to study the species from their wild, natural habitat all the way to the lab, where they use nuclear-derived techniques to diagnose any potential virus. 
This photo essay explains how they do it.Step one: veterinarians and wildlife experts enter the jungle at night to respect the animals’ rhythm. Step two: they set the nets, and wait for their catch. In less than an hour, the first bats start to appear.To avoid possible contamination, the brave vets dress in full personal protective equipment before handling the bats."To diagnose and identify a virus, you need a high-quality sample, taken properly and shipped the right way," says Hermann Unger, technical officer at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Applications in Food and Agriculture. "This implicates protecting both yourself and the animal."Once put into a special bag, the bats are transported to the lab.Where veterinarians take blood and saliva samples.Using nuclear-derived techniques and equipment donated by the IAEA, the vets check if these tiny animals are carrying any viruses.Why so much protection? <br /><br /> Bats can carry more than a hundred different virus types, some of which are transmitted through contact with bodily liquids, such as blood, to humans. One of these is Ebola. And, every year, around ten new viruses are discovered in bats.A course offered by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture last month trained veterinarians and wildlife experts from seven African countries in bat capture for sampling and diagnosis.In the two weeks the course lasted, participants trapped more than 30 bats for laboratory analysis under the stars in the jungles of Njala, central Sierra Leone.This is the second course in a series intended for African veterinary scientists to join forces and, through active surveillance, prevent any more outbreaks in the region. Surveillance is ever more relevant as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, faces a new Ebola outbreak since August 2018. <br /><br />
Photos and text: Laura Gil/IAEA

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