It’s been reported that fruit bats in Guatemala are hosting a new type of the influenza A virus, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The novel subtype has been designated H17 and has diverged from known influenza viruses long ago.
This has allowed researchers to shed some light on their evolution and it doesn’t seem to pose an immediate threat to humans. However, it is similar enough to other subtypes that it’s possible that a genetic exchange might pose a risk.
Ruben Donis, chief of molecular virology and vaccines at the CDC in Atlanta says that the impact isn’t yet known. They are currently testing bats in South America, Africa, and Asia to document the geographical distribution of H17. The researchers are far from being able to speculate on the pandemic potential of H17, but this is another indicator that bats are important vectors of such viruses.
Bats have been linked to the Ebola, SARS, and nipah viruses. There are over 1,200 known species of bats, and they are the second-largest mammal group, making it unsurprising that they carry a large variety of viruses.
Out of 316 bats sampled from 21 different species, 3 yellow-shouldered bats (Sturnira lilium) tested positive for H17. It’s not yet clear how H17 is transmitted, but the researchers suspect that oral-fecal transmission might be the culprit, as the highest concentration of virus was found in the intestinal tract.
Reference: “A distinct lineage of influenza A virus from bats” by Suxiang Tong, Yan Li, Pierre Rivailler, Christina Conrardy, Danilo A. Alvarez Castillo, Li-Mei Chen, Sergio Recuenco, James A. Ellison, Charles T. Davis, Ian A. York, Amy S. Turmelle, David Moran, Shannon Rogers, Mang Shi, Ying Tao, Michael R. Weil, Kevin Tang, Lori A. Rowe, Scott Sammons, Xiyan Xu, Michael Frace, Kim A. Lindblade, Nancy J. Cox, Larry J. Anderson, Charles E. Rupprecht and Ruben O. Donis, 27 February 2012, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.