PREDICT's Pretty Face...

- David Wolking

The PREDICT team has been working with partner HealthMap for several years to develop a public platform for the release of our wildlife surveillance and viral testing results.  One of the challenges in rolling out a public platform featuring information on wildlife species, their locations at the time of sampling, and any findings from our diagnostic tests looking at RNA viruses is government approval. PREDICT is a big project, active in 20 countries worldwide (give or take depending on permit status), and establishing data sharing and release policies with government ministries is no easy task.  Developing a platform for the display of PREDICT data after securing government approval, a platform that meets the needs of all partners is also a challenge.  

PREDICT's new public face on  HealthMap .  Here you can see the overview of surveillance progress in Tanzania as of early December 2013.  Our HALI team has been busy sampling wildlife throughout the country at areas we have identified as high-risk for human-animal contact and potential disease transmission.

PREDICT's new public face on HealthMap.  Here you can see the overview of surveillance progress in Tanzania as of early December 2013.  Our HALI team has been busy sampling wildlife throughout the country at areas we have identified as high-risk for human-animal contact and potential disease transmission.

So this month when HealthMap went live with a soft release of our PREDICT site featuring surveillance locations and info we were very excited.  

Check out PREDICT's pretty public face on HealthMap at healthmap.org/predict

For the first time our PREDICT teams could share the fruits of 4+ years of labor sampling bushmeat and capturing bats, rodents, and non-human primates with our partners and the global public.  Even better, we could finally demonstrate how our diagnostic findings would be publicly displayed to government partners and ministries, making discussions on data approval for public release more straightforward.

So how does it work?

Let's check out the functionality of the new PREDICT HealthMap site using Tanzania as an example...

As implementing partner for PREDICT in Tanzania, our HALI team led by Drs. Zikankuba Sijali and Liz Vanwormer has been very proactive.  In just 3 years they identified multiple locations as high-risk for human-wildlife contact, mapped them according to priority for wildlife disease transmission and emergence, and hit the road.  This surveillance road trip is nicely captured by PREDICT's HealthMap site, where surveillance activities are clustered by geographic location.  You can click around on the country map using basic Google Maps zoom functions, zero in on the "bubbles" highlighting surveillance activity, and explore the different species our team has sampled based on location.  Eventually as we clear our diagnostic results with the government of Tanzania, you will be able to view the RNA viruses we detected in animals at these sites, along with helpful links to what our findings mean for wildlife and public health.

An example of  PREDICT surveillance progress  on our HealthMap site from Tanga.  The HALI team identified Tanga as an area of surveillance priority due to the presence of large bat caves (Amboni Caves) where ecotourists frequently encounter bats and other roosting sites for fruit bats near the Indian Ocean coastline.

An example of PREDICT surveillance progress on our HealthMap site from Tanga.  The HALI team identified Tanga as an area of surveillance priority due to the presence of large bat caves (Amboni Caves) where ecotourists frequently encounter bats and other roosting sites for fruit bats near the Indian Ocean coastline.

A Special Journey...

- David Wolking

Today Dr. Liz Vanwormer is returning from Tanzania.  Liz has been working with the HALI team on PREDICT, and is leading a project investigating pathogen transmission between bats, monkeys, and people in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park and surrounding areas.  That's a pretty special project, and we'll learn more about it as it develops, but it's not our main focus.   

Our main focus today is bat poop.  Why?  Because we spend a lot of time and money collecting it.  We find bats, we sample them, collect their poop, put it in vials with a special preservative, and then freeze it in liquid nitrogen.  If the bats don't have poop, we swab them, using a very small tipped swab and yes, we lubricate the tip.  We are not sadists.  All of these poop and fecal swab samples are taken to our lab in Morogoro where our technician Ruth uses a special protocol to extract RNA from the poop.  Once we have the RNA, we use it to synthesize complementary DNA (cDNA), then we freeze that cDNA and use it to run our viral family screening tests to look for genetic evidence of viruses.  You can find a lot of viruses in bat poop.  

So, Dr. Liz is traveling with some special luggage - a liquid nitrogen charged dry shipper full of cDNA from bat poop.  It's pretty amazing that genetic material from bat shit collected deep in Tanzania's Southern Highlands will have traveled to Morogoro, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, London, San Francisco, Napa, and finally to our UC Davis One Health lab.  Too bad it can't rack up frequent flyer miles....

To learn more about the PREDICT project, check out their homepage. 

To help HALI support our research activities in Tanzania, consider a donation... 

 

Strange but True - Bats on Trains!

-David Wolking

As a kid I used to read the Strange but True books.  They were terrible, but did inspire imagination and a sense of the mysterious in everyday life.  Sometimes on our weekly Skype calls a sense of the Strange but True creeps into the conversation.

Last Friday, Zika was leading our PREDICT surveillance team on a trip to sample bat colonies in Nunge, Kilombero, and Ifakara.  The fruit bats at Kilombero and Ifakara had since migrated away  (likely to the coast where it is warmer), but the team found insectivorous bats at a major train station in the area and went to work.

On the Skype call, all I could think about was bats on trains, and maybe a terrible sequel to Snakes on a Plane with Samuel Jackson fighting off vampire bats as a train rushed over rusty rails to certain demise in the Amazon.   But alas, not to be.  Zika told us the bats aren't on the trains, they're in the train station.  I've never seen a train in Tanzania, less a train station, so I'm imagining a concrete block version of Grand Central Station painted Chama Cha Mapinduzi green and yellow with vendors selling delicacies like BBQ corn or roasted mice, and the station master dangling a gold pocket watch waiting for the big diesel to roll on in, on time of course.  That would've been strange but not so true.  Luckily Zika shared a few pictures today to clear things up.

Bats in Train stations!  Not as sexy, but just as relevant from a wildlife disease surveillance perspective.  Train stations are full of people, bats live in the station, and right there you have what we call an interface, or point of contact between people and wildlife where disease transmission might occur.  Transmission can happen a number of ways, directly through a bite (not likely in this case - these are not vampire bats), or indirectly through exposure to bat saliva, feces, or urine.  Think about it.  You have this great job as a cleaner for the train station - steady income in a rural area in Africa, as long as that train keeps running, people keep buying tickets, and you keep sweeping.  Problem is, these bats poop all over the floor.  By the time you get there the guano sweeps up easily enough, but the sweeping and breeze make dust, and you may be breathing in aerosolized pathogens from bat feces.  Plus, train station sweepers probably don't have health care, so if they get sick, it's all about the immune system.  That's a hypothetical situation,  but when we run tests to see what viruses these bats in the train station might be carrying, we will probably use fecal samples as most likely for disease transmission to humans and other animals.

One more Strange but True for today - did you know that my university (University of California) and the military experimented with wild caught bats for use as bombers in World War II?  Neither did I, and probably for a reason.  What a disaster.  Some ideas, like hooking incendiary explosives through the chest skin on a Mexican free-tailed bat, should be left unspoken.  They actually thought weaponized bats would be more effective than conventional or atomic explosives in ending the conflict in the Pacific:

"Think of thousands of fires breaking out simultaneously over a circle of forty miles in diameter for every bomb dropped... Japan could have been devastated, yet with small loss of life."

Keep dreaming, and redefine loss of life.  That program must have killed 100s of thousands of bats.  Way to go UC.  Strange but true....

 

 

Partners in Wildlife Health

The HALI team works with Ruaha National Park veterinarians to safely restrain an adult giraffe for sampling.  Giraffes in the park have been suffering from a skin disease, leading to a partnership between the park, HALI, and Sokoine University to identify the cause of the disease and intervention options. (Photo by Goodluck Paul)

The HALI team works with Ruaha National Park veterinarians to safely restrain an adult giraffe for sampling.  Giraffes in the park have been suffering from a skin disease, leading to a partnership between the park, HALI, and Sokoine University to identify the cause of the disease and intervention options. (Photo by Goodluck Paul)

HALI Partnerships with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and National Parks

- Goodluck Paul and David Wolking

HALI is actively collaborating with Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA) and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) on several wildlife disease surveillance and investigation activities.

In May 2013, HALI project veterinarians, including project leads Dr. Jonna Mazet and Professor Rudovick Kazwala, were invited by RUNAPA to participate in a giraffe immobilization exercise to collect samples for an investigation into an emerging skin disease impacting giraffe herd health at the park.  In collaboration with RUNAPA veterinarians, Serengeti National Park veterinarians and other staff from the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), the team safely immobilized 16 giraffes, and samples were sent to SUA for laboratory investigation.  Once the samples are analyzed, results will be shared with the park staff, and options for skin disease intervention will be carefully considered. 

We were able to document the immobilization event in our slide show (see Twiga Take-Down).  It is no small feat to safely inject drugs and guide Earth’s tallest terrestrial animal to ground-level for sampling, and even more difficult to get them back on their feet again, but the team did an excellent job ensuring no giraffes were injured, and that all animals safely recovered and returned to their lives browsing on twigs and leaves from tops of acacia trees, ruminating on life, necking, and tending to young calves.

What’s on the table now?

This month in northern Tanzania, HALI’s PREDICT project is training TAWIRI wildlife veterinarians in the safe capture, handling and sampling of small mammals like bats in the Tanga and Arusha regions.  PREDICT is investigating bats as a potential animal host species for zoonotic diseases, and is sampling bat colonies and roosting sites throughout Tanzania. 

Later this year, in mid or late September, HALI is planning another collaborative activity with Ruaha National Park and TAWIRI to conduct an aerial and ground survey of buffalo populations in the southern part of the Park.  These surveys help the park better understand the buffalo population and herd health, and assist in park wildlife management plans.

Future collaborations?

HALI looks forward to fostering other collaborations and sharing project experience on disease surveillance, animal handling, and investigations into emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases throughout the country.  We hope these partnerships are just the beginning, and that we continue to join forces with the National Parks, TAWIRI and others to better understand disease and improve health at the wildlife-human-livestock and environmental interfaces in Tanzania.

 

Sampling Fruit Bats, Dar es Salaam

- David Wolking

The HALI field team led by Drs. Zikankuba Sijali and Goodluck Paul was in Dar es Salaam all weekend identifying fruit bat colonies near urban areas as part of the PREDICT's wildlife disease surveillance project.  Using mist nets (special nets designed to safely capture bats) suspended from roosting sites high in the trees, the team trapped three different species of bats at multiple sites, and took samples to help PREDICT understand what viruses these ancient mammals carry that might pose a potential health threat to humans.  All of the bats were released after sampling, to continue their critical ecological role as pollinators.  Our staff scientist Dr. Liz Vanwormer captured the team in action in these great pictures.