New Flu Virus Found in Bats

This digitally-colorized negative-stained transmission electron micograph (TEM) shows a number of influenza A viruses. H1N1 is a strain of influenza A. (Image credit: CDC/ F.A. Murphy)

A new strain of flu virus has been discovered in fruit bats in Guatemala, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus, described in a new study, is not currently a threat to people because it cannot infect us, but should be monitored as a potential source for human influenza, the CDC said.

For this bat influenza virus to infect humans, it would need to obtain genetic properties of human influenza viruses. Gene swapping can happen in nature when two or more influenza viruses infect a single cell 

— it's a complicated process, but it can sometimes lead to the emergence of new influenza viruses in humans. Preliminary research on the new virus suggests that its genes are compatible with human influenza viruses, the CDC said.

"Fortunately, initial laboratory testing suggests the new virus would need to undergo significant changes to become capable of infecting and spreading easily among humans," said Dr. Ruben Donis, chief of the Molecular Virology and Vaccines Branch in CDC's Influenza Division.  "A different animal — such as a pig, horse or dog  — would need to be capable of being infected with both this new bat influenza virus and human influenza viruses," for it to happen."

Previous pandemics of the 20th century, as well as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, were caused by influenza viruses in animals that gained the ability to infect and spread easily between humans.

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to find influenza viruses in fruit bats. 

Pass it on:  A new flu virus has been identified in fruit bats, but currently, it is not capable of infecting people, according to the CDC.

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Live Science Staff
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