The death rate for Nipah virus is up to 75% and it has no vaccine. While the world focuses on Covid-19, scientists are working hard to ensure it doesn't cause the next pandemic.
It was 3 January 2020, and Supaporn Wacharapluesadee was standing by, awaiting a delivery. Word had spread that there was some kind of respiratory disease affecting people in Wuhan, China, and with the Lunar New Year approaching, many Chinese tourists were headed to neighbouring Thailand to celebrate. Cautiously, the Thai government began screening passengers arriving from Wuhan at the airport, and a few select labs – including Wacharapluesadee's – were chosen to process the samples to try to detect the problem.
Wacharapluesadee is an expert virus hunter. She runs the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Disease-Health Science Centre in Bangkok. Over the past 10 years, she's been part of Predict, a worldwide effort to detect and stop diseases that can jump from non-human animals to humans.
She and her team have sampled many species. But their main focus has been on bats, which are known to harbour many coronaviruses.
She and her team were able to understand the disease in just a matter of days, detecting the first case of Covid-19 outside of China. They found that – as well as being a novel virus that didn't originate in humans – it was most closely linked to coronaviruses they had already found in bats. Thanks to the early information, the government was able to act quickly to quarantine patients and advise citizens. Despite being a country of nearly 70 million people, as of 3 January 2021 Thailand had recorded 8,955 cases and 65 deaths.