Yellow-shouldered bat found in Guatemala. Photo credit: CDC/OID/NCEZID – Amy T. Gilbert.
For a winter with a conspicuous absence of influenza in humans, flu in non-human hosts has been making a lot of headlines.
Last fall came the furor over Fouchier’s ferrets (still ongoing), and then earlier this week, we learned about a new strain of influenza found in an unusual host: bats (see A New Flu Comes Up To Bat).
With the addition of an H17 flu subtype, and a new host species, suddenly all of the textbooks and slide presentations on influenza are out of date once more.
(A bit of history: the H16 subtype was discovered in 2004 by a team that included Ron Fouchier).
In response to the public’s obvious interest in this new discovery, the CDC has set up a Bat Flu Q&A page, with additional background information.
Questions & Answers
On this Page
- What is bat influenza (flu)?
- Does bat influenza pose a threat to human health?
- How could bat influenza viruses become capable of infecting and spreading among humans?
- Why is the discovery of bat influenza important for public health?
A new and dramatically different influenza A virus has been discovered in fruit bats. The findings by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working with the Universidad del Valle of Guatemala are described in an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal March issue.
This is the first time an influenza virus has been identified in bats, but in its current form the virus is not a human health issue, according to the study’s scientists. Preliminary research at CDC on the new virus suggests that its genes are compatible with human influenza viruses. As a result, it is possible that these bat viruses could eventually gain the ability to cause infections in humans. However, CDC experts have been unable to grow the bat influenza virus in test tubes, suggesting that the virus is currently not well suited to causing human illness. For the bat influenza virus to infect humans, it would need to obtain some genetic properties of human influenza viruses. This can occur in nature through a process called “reassortment.” Reassortment occurs when two or more influenza viruses infect a single host cell, which allows the viruses to swap genetic information. Reassortment events can sometimes lead to the emergence of new influenza viruses.
As these pages indicate, more research is needed to determine how prevalent influenza viruses are in bats, and what (if any) public health ramifications they present.
I’m certain, as more is learned about this new virus, the CDC will update these pages. So don’t forget to tune in again.
Same bat time, same bat channel.