Scientists have recently confirmed finding genetic fragments of the flu virus in bats, according to the CDC. The research was posted online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The flu is common in humans, birds and pigs and has been documented in dogs, horses, seals and whales. Now the bat.
“Most people are fairly convinced we had already discovered flu in all the possible animals,” said Ruben Donis, a CDC scientist, but the new bat bug has contradicted this notion. As a side note, Discovery.com adds chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys to the avian aspect of the list.
Roughly five years ago, Russian virologists claimed finding flu in bats, but no actual evidence was ever offered. Researchers have theorized that bats first caught the virus centuries ago, giving it time to mutate within the bat population into its current state. Scientists haven’t been able to grow the new virus in chicken eggs or in human cell cultures, as they typically do with more common flu strains. Still, it could pose a human threat, if it came into contact with more common forms of influenza, and mutate further. Though I wouldn’t bank on a repeat of the scenario portrayed in Contagion.
Sturnira lilium, a.k.a the Little Yellow-shouldered Bat, is the species in question, found in Guatemala. This type of bat isn’t known to bite people, but likes to eat fruit, which makes contamination of produce possible. Interestingly, scientists have considered that people have already been infected in the long past, as well as presently. “Now that scientists know what it looks like, they are looking for it in other bats as well as humans and other animals,” adds Donis. One researcher isn’t even convinced that bat flu even exists – “All they found was a segment of genetic material,” said Richard “Mick” Fulton, a bird disease researcher at Michigan State. He adds, “in my mind, if you can’t grow the virus, how do you know that the virus is there?” Perhaps the bat will foster a new news epidemic.