A Hopkins scientist is studying the ways the deadly Nipah virus affects carrier fruit bats to better understand how it spreads to humans

Long before dawn one August morning, Emily Gurley and her team set out for the roost site. The night before, a research team in Faridpur, Bangladesh, had set up nets after the fruit bats flew off to forage. The nets caught about a dozen bats returning to the roost; now, Gurley and her colleagues gathered to collect samples from them. It was all part of a new endeavor to get one step ahead of a virus that can kill up to 90% of those infected with a terrifying combination of encephalitis and pneumonia.

Despite the best tricks science had up its sleeve, the world’s epidemiologists always remained one step behind.

Scientists have been playing catch-up since they detected the first Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia in 1998. Since then, most outbreaks have occurred in Bangladesh. And Gurley, an associate scientist in epidemiology who received her PhD from the Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2012, has investigated many of them. The Nipah surveillance system she helped establish in 2007 has provided scientists with 12 years of data on how the virus jumps from bats to humans and how it infects its hosts. So far, however, no vaccine has been developed for the highly fatal virus. Because of this and Nipah’s pandemic potential, the WHO has placed Nipah on its 10 most wanted list of emerging viruses.

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