ATLANTA (UPI) — An influenza A virus discovered in fruit bats in Guatemala does not appear to present a current threat to humans, but warrants further study, officials said.
Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and scientists at the University of the Valley of Guatemala said 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 is a complicated chain of events that can sometimes lead to the emergence of new influenza viruses in humans, the researchers said.
“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,” lead author Dr. Suxiang Tong of the Pathogen Discovery Program in CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases said in a statement. “The study is important because the research has identified a new animal species that may act as a source of flu viruses.”
Initial laboratory testing suggested the new virus would need to undergo significant changes to become capable of infecting and spreading easily among humans, said Dr. Ruben Donis, chief of the Molecular Virology and Vaccines Branch in CDC’s Influenza Division.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.