It was late one night in January 2009, and Jonathan Epstein was standing on the roof of an abandoned storage depot near Khulna, Bangladesh, with the writer and journalist David Quammen along with a small team of veterinarians. The group was in Bangladesh on a strange errand: They were catching bats.

It had been more than  a decade since the first outbreak of the Nipah virus in Malaysia. Nipah, named after the home village of one of its earliest victims, causes respiratory distress, inflammation of the brain, and seizures. Its mortality rate is staggeringly high — between 40 and 75 percent of those who contract the disease ultimately die. (The virus depicted in the now all-too-prescient 2011 film Contagion was based on Nipah.)

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