A new type of flu may have been found in bats. Hitherto scientists were of the general opinion that all types of flu in animals capable of contracting or carrying the flu virus had been discovered.
Fox News has reported that for the first time, scientists have found evidence of influenza in bats, reporting a never-before-seen virus. The research was undertaken at the molecular virology and vaccines laboratory at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The discovery was accidental as the CDC researchers, who were based in Guatemala, were studying rabies in bats when they found the evidence of flu. The discovery of genetic fragments of a flu virus is the first reported incidence of flu in bats.
This could be taken as a cause for concern given the reports of the flu virus spreading from birds or pigs to people. However, Suxiang Tong, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's pathogen discovery program. Said (as quoted by Yahoo! News):
“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”
Technically what has been found is a genetic fragment of an influenza virus rather than the virus itself. The scientists are thus being cautious is their approach, as the website Science 2.0 points out whilst predicting the potential for some media hysteria (and this might be the case with outlets like Sky News who use the heading grabbing “human risk unknown” on their news report).
Influenza viruses are common in humans, birds and pigs and have even been seen in dogs, horses, seals and whales, among others. However, hitherto the recent announcement scientists were of the general opinion that all types of flu in animals capable of contracting or carrying the flu virus had been discovered.
The implications of the discovery will require further research in order to assess the impact.
For reference, the research was published in the following science paper:
Suxiang Tonget et al., 'A distinct lineage of influenza A virus from bats', PNAS 2012 .