New type of influenza A discovered in fruit bats

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Infection recently announced that a new type of influenza A virus has been discovered in Guatemalan fruit bats.

The virus does not appear to pose a threat to humans, but the CDC is recommending that it be studied as a potential source for human infection.

The CDC worked with scientists from the University of the Valley of Guatemala on the discovery. A study detailing the find is to be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"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," Dr. Suxiang Tong of the CDC's Pathogen Discovery Program Division and lead author of the study said. "The study is important because the research has identified a new animal species that may act as a source of flu viruses."

If the bat influenza virus were to infect humans, it would first have to obtain some of the genetic properties of human influenza viruses. The process by which this occurs is known as reassortment and occurs in nature when two or more influenza viruses infect a single host cell. Preliminary research on the new virus suggests that genetic reassortment is a possibility, however slim, though the new virus is compatible with human influenza viruses.

"Fortunately, initial laboratory testing suggests the new virus would need to undergo significant changes to become capable of infecting and spreading easily among humans," Dr. Ruben Donis of the CDC's Influenza Division and a coauthor of the study said. "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 reassortment to occur."