From Markets to Hospitals to Farms, Students Hunt Respiratory Viruses in Malaysia

November 2, 2017

Southeast Asia has surfaced as a “hotspot” for novel respiratory virus emergence due to dense populations of humans and domestic animals living in close proximity. The state of Sarawak in eastern Malaysia, where locals market and eat jungle products such as wild mammal meat, is one of these areas. This summer as part of a Bass Connections project team, six students traveled there to study viral pathogens and investigate their impact on humans.

The team partnered with Sibu Hospital, Kapit Hospital and Sarawak’s State Health Department in surveilling for influenza viruses, coronaviruses, adenoviruses and enteroviruses of human or animal origin. Their research took them to hospital wards, open markets, swine farms and a pork processing plant.

Their goal is to improve understanding of the factors contributing to the spread of respiratory illness, ultimately enhancing preparedness for and possibly preventing disease outbreaks.

Gregory Gray, professor of medicine, environmental health and global health, and Tech-Hock Toh, pediatrician and head of the Clinical Research Centre at Sibu Hospital, led the project. Other project leaders included medicine and global health professor Nathan Thielman and Kristen Coleman, postdoctoral global health fellow at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.

Read the student team members’ reflections:

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The project is co-funded by the Duke Global Health Institute, Bass Connections, Duke Kunshan University and Duke One Health. The video was produced by Jim Rogalski, director of video productions at the Duke Medical Alumni Association.