New influenza A virus identified in bats
Tong S. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;doi:10.1073/pnas.1116200109.
Researchers from the CDC have identified a new influenza A virus in fruit bats from Guatemala, but it does not appear to pose a current threat to humans.
“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 issues,” study researcher Suxiang Tong, PhD, of the pathogen discovery program in the CDC’s division of viral diseases, said in a press release. “This study is important because the research has identified a new animal species that may act as a source of flu viruses.”
Three hundred sixteen bats from 21 different species were captured during 2 years in southern Guatemala. Three of the bat rectal swabs were positive for the new influenza A virus.
According to the researchers, most influenza A viruses circulate in waterfowl, but viruses that infect mammalian hosts pose the greatest risk for spread to humans. The discovery of this new influenza A virus shows that little yellow-shouldered bats in Central America are a potential sylvatic mammalian reservoir of influenza.
According to the press release, bat influenza would need to go through reassortment to obtain genetic properties of human influenza before it could infect humans. Reassortment occurs when two different influenza viruses infect a single host cell and swap genetic information. This process can lead to the emergence of new influenza viruses in humans.
Preliminary research at the CDC shows that the genes of the bat influenza are compatible with human influenza. However, a different animal must be infected with the bat influenza and a human influenza for reassortment to occur.
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant disclosures.
Bats may now be added to the list of mammalian hosts of in?uenza A viruses. Considering that swine, horses and dogs may serve as bridging hosts of other viruses associated with bats (e.g., ?loviruses, paramyxoviruses, and others), their potential permissiveness for bat in?uenza viruses should be investigated. Clearly, the identi?cation of in?uenza A viruses in bats expands the repertoire of likely reservoirs of in?uenza viruses and raises further questions: How are in?uenza viruses maintained in bat populations? What are the public health and agricultural rami?cations attributable to this reservoir of in?uenza? Are there yet-to-be-discovered reservoirs of ancestral in?uenza viruses in other parts of the animal kingdom?
-Arnon Shimshony, DVM
Infectious Disease News Editorial Board member
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