We've had bird flu and swine flu – now scientists have found BAT FLU (and it could pose a threat to humans)
U.S health officials have found influenza in Guatemalan batsStrain could pose a risk to humans if it mingled with more common forms of fluScientists haven't yet been able to grow the new
virus in chicken eggs or in human cells in a lab
Scientists have found evidence of flu in bats for the first time – and warn it could pose a threat to humans.
U.S. health officials say they found genetic fragments of a never-before-seen virus in some Guatemalan bats.
Flu bugs are common in humans, birds, pigs and a variety of other mammals, but this is the first time one has been documented in these winged mammals.
Carrier: The influenza virus has recently been detected in the yellow-shouldered bat in Guatemala
'Most people were fairly convinced we had
already discovered flu in all the possible' animals, said Ruben Donis, a
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist who co-authored
the new study.
Scientists suspect that some bats caught
flu centuries ago and that the virus mutated within the bat population
into this new variety.
Scientists haven't been able to grow the new
virus in chicken eggs or in human cell culture, as they do with more
conventional flu strains and it is not clear if, or how well, it spreads.
However, it still could pose a threat to
humans. If it mingled with more common forms of influenza,
it could swap genes and mutate into something more dangerous, a scenario
at the heart of the global flu epidemic movie 'Contagion.'
The research was posted online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The CDC has an international outpost in Guatemala where researchers collected more than 300 bats in 2009 and 2010.
The research was mainly focused on rabies, but the scientists also checked specimens for other germs and stumbled upon the new virus. It was in the intestines of little yellow-shouldered bats.
These bats eat fruit and insects but don't bite people. Yet it's possible they could leave the virus on produce and a human could get infected by taking a bite.
A health worker in Vietnam sprays disinfectant at the site of a suspected outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu virus among ducks. The virus has killed 345 people since 2003. A bat flu strain could theoretically also spread to humans
'It's conceivable some people were infected with the virus in the past. Now that scientists know what it looks like, they are looking for it in other bats as well as humans and other animals', said Mr Donis.
However, Richard Fulton, a bird disease researcher at Michigan State University, said more evidence was needed.
He said all they had found was a segment of genetic material and not a fully-fledged virus.
Mr Donis said work is going on to try to infect healthy bats, but noted there are other viruses that were discovered by genetic sequencing but are hard to grow in a lab, including hepatitis C.