A Team Effort: UM Collaborates with DBKL to Study Crow-Borne Pathogenic Viruses

By: Michelle Liew

The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 around the world, including Malaysia, has opened the eyes of many to the dangers of viral diseases.

Prior to this, most citizens were unaware just how deadly viral disease could be- especially those with a high rate of infection.

Spurred on by this, the Tropical Infectious Diseases Research & Education Centre (TIDREC) of Universiti Malaya is launching the Programe Pengesan Patogen Zoonotik Bawaan Gagak (PPZBG). Collaborating with Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), this programme aims to detect the presence of zoonotic pathogens in crows that live around Kuala Lumpur city centre.

TIDREC Senior Lecturer, Dr. Zubaidah Ya’cob remarked that her team is very pleased to work with DBKL to conduct a study on viruses and crow-borne diseases around the capital.

This is the second round of the program following our successful collaboration with the Kuala Langat Municipal Council at the end of last year. This research program is conducted using government funds to conduct this study periodically.

This program is part of our efforts to detect the presence of zoonotic pathogens in the body of animals which can prove infectious to humans,” she said in a recent iGen interview.

According to her, everyone is aware that crows are carrion-eating animals which are central to the breeding of various dangerous pathogens. This includes viruses, bacteria, parasites, and protozoa that can infect animals such as crows without showing any symptoms.

When crows eat pathogen-laced carcasses, they become new hosts or ‘storage tanks’, serving as a sustainable place for pathogens to survive.

If these pathogens infect humans, especially in the case of respiratory viruses such as avian flu and coronavirus, it is very likely that it will result in serious illness, with clear symptoms.”

This condition is called zoonotic infectious disease.

We at TIDREC views the inadvertent transfer of animal pathogens to humans as a serious issue, especially in densely populated areas such as Kuala Lumpur.

Therefore, regular pathogen monitoring is very important,” she said.

The PPZBG programme with DBKL involved a total of 30 people;  TIDREC staff (including lecturers & research officers) former students, and industrial training students.

The programme also helps to (indirectly) train new TIDREC staff and students, and shows them that the field of research is not limited to the laboratory alone.

TIDREC Staff obtaining samples to study in the laboratory.

The program began at 2pm with an information session by DBKL at Jalan Raja Laut. This was a quick briefing before the crow shooting activity towards the evening.

Dr. Zubaidah stated that they managed to record samples of organs, blood and ectoparasites from almost 100 crows through the pre-determined standard operating procedure.

The sampling process is very tiring because each bird needs to be operated on to get the blood and organ samples.

A lot of manpower is needed for us to work effectively,” she explained.

She added that all samples from the crows are brought back to the TIDREC laboratory to ensure that the pathogen verification process can be done as thoroughly as possible, using the latest equipment. The results obtained will be recorded and shared with the authorities and local residents through knowledge dissemination activities within the community.

We hope that this will help increase community awareness on the importance of ensuring that urban areas are kept clean.

This is because, unclean or rubbish-filled locations can invite animals such as crows to gather and breed due to an overabundance of food sources,” she explained.


(All images sourced from Kosmo.my)