Refining Surveillance for Zoonotic Respiratory Viruses in Sarawak, Malaysia (2018-2019)


Zoonotic diseases, caused by pathogens transmitted from animals to humans, account for approximately three out of five new human illnesses. The multidisciplinary One Health approach is gaining traction as the way forward in solving the problem of emerging diseases plaguing human, animal and environmental health.

Southeast Asia has been identified as a hotspot for infectious diseases due to the tropical climate and anthropogenic factors that have led to increased contact between humans, wildlife and the ecosystem. In recent years, novel respiratory viruses such as avian and swine influenza viruses, enteroviruses and adenoviruses have caused significant outbreaks that have devastated human and animal populations. Stakeholders acknowledge the importance of increasing surveillance and epidemiological research to understand the emergence of zoonotic diseases to prevent potential future pandemics; however, major gaps in surveillance remain in Malaysia, particularly at the interface of human and animal health.  

Project Description

Building on the work of the 2017-18 Bass Connections project team, this project aims to refine surveillance efforts for emerging respiratory viruses in Malaysia; leverage a One Health approach to understand the etiology of respiratory viruses; and build the surveillance and diagnostic capacity of local collaborators.

Bioaerosol specimens collected during a pilot sampling at an abattoir were positive for several novel respiratory viruses, including enteroviruses, porcine circovirus 2 (PCV2) and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSv). Given the abundance of human and nonhuman respiratory pathogens detected in the air, this project will implement increased surveillance of respiratory pathogens in environments where there is frequent contact between animals and humans. Team members will conduct repeat sampling in night abattoirs and introduce several new and high-priority environments in Sarawak to include poultry farms and live poultry markets. In addition, the team will introduce surveillance in school environments. Children are known sentinels for disease in the greater community, and given the noninvasive methodology of bioaerosol sampling, monitoring schools for the presence of respiratory viruses is an appropriate mechanism to potentially predict community illness.

The team will collect 75 aerosol samples over 10 weeks in Sarawak and examine these samples for influenza viruses A, B, C and D, adenoviruses, enteroviruses, coronaviruses, PCV2 and 3 and PRRSv.

Anticipated Outcomes

Several publications; data for future grant applications; participation in domestic and international conferences; increased laboratory and diagnostic capacity at Sibu Hospital’s Clinical Research Centre


Spring 2018 – Fall 2018  

  • Spring 2018: March: begin weekly meetings; undergraduates begin training in One Health lab; project manager finalizes IRB and IACUC approval with Malaysia’s National Medical Research Register and Duke; April: continue trainings, meet weekly and prepare laboratory materials
  • Summer 2018: May 17 - June 1, Duke One Health Training Program; June 2, depart for Sarawak for 10 weeks of fieldwork
  • Fall 2018: Continue analysis of collected data during weekly meetings; work on deliverables, including posters, manuscripts and oral presentation

Team Outcomes to Date

Anticipating the Next Pandemic Threat at the Human-Animal Interface in Sarawak, Malaysia (poster by David Chen, Jessica Choi, Gina Kovalik, Karen Lin, Julie Zemke, presented at Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 17, 2019)


David Chen

A Reflection on Respiratory Virus Surveillance in Sarawak, Malaysia (David Chen)


Duke One Health Students Conduct Research Studies in Sarawak

This Team in the News

Targeting Malaysia's Infectious Diseases through Research and Surveillance

Meet the Members of the 2018-19 Student Advisory Council

See earlier related team, Building Capacity for Surveillance and Diagnosis of Respiratory Viruses in Sarawak, Malaysia (2017-2018).

Bass Connections team members in Malaysia

Team Leaders

  • Jane Fieldhouse, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Gregory Gray, School of Medicine-Medicine: Infectious Diseases

/graduate Team Members

  • Jessica Choi , Global Health - MS
  • Karen Lin, Medicine MD Second Year
  • Juliana Zemke, Global Health - MS

/undergraduate Team Members

  • David Chen, Biology (BS), Computer Science (AB2)
  • Maria Kovalik, Biology (BS), Chemistry (BS2)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Kristen Coleman, Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore
  • Nathan Thielman, School of Medicine-Medicine: Infectious Diseases

/zcommunity Team Members

  • King Ching Hii, Kapit Hospital
  • Teck Hock Toh, Sibu Hospital, Malaysia