Bat Flu Strain Discovered by Scientists in Guatemala

Scientists have discovered a never-before-seen strain of the flu in bats, but its possible impact on humanity remains unknown.

Scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Universidad del Valle in Guatemala City discovered the subtype of the strain in Guatemalan bats. The bats will now join a lengthy list of mammals that have been discovered to be susceptible to the virus including birds, pigs, seals, dogs, raccoons, and horses.

The study, titled "A distinct lineage of influenza A virus from bats," was published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

"Most people were fairly convinced we had already discovered flu in all the possible (animals)," said co-author of the new study and CDC scientist Ruben Donis.

"Influenza A virus reservoirs in animals have provided novel genetic elements leading to the emergence of global pandemics in humans. Most influenza viruses circulate in waterfowl, but those that infect mammalian hosts are thought to pose the greatest rick for zoonotic spread to human and the generation of pandemic or panzootic viruses," the report reads.

The virus, which was "significantly divergent" from known influenza A viruses, was discovered in the intestines of small yellow-shouldered bats captured in two separate locations in Guatemala.

It remains unclear what threat this newly discovered strain of the flu poses for humans, but the scientists did find that the virus is compatible for genetic exchange with human influenza viruses in human cells and could potentially contribute to a human pandemic.

Although the small yellow-shouldered bats do not bite people, they eat insects and fruit and could pass on the virus to humans through produce contamination.

However, scientists have been unable to grow the virus in other animals and are uncertain if, or how, the virus spreads.