First ever flu in bats discovered
After the threat of bird flu and swine flu, scientists in the United States have said that there could now be bat flu.
Researchers have found genetic fragments of a never before seen virus in some Guatemalan bats and have warned that it could pose a threat to people.
This is the first time a strain of flu has been found in the winged mammals, although it is common in humans, birds and pigs.
The scientists believe that some bats suffered from flu hundreds of years ago, and this new variety is a mutation of the disease.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal and was led by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Ruben Donis, a scientist who co-authored the research, said: “Most people were fairly convinced we had already discovered flu in all the possible animals.”
At this stage it is not clear how the virus spreads, but researchers warned that it was mixed with common forms of flu it could mutate into something more dangerous.
The discovery was made by accident as the CDC were in Guatemala testing bats for forms of rabies.
The yellow winged bats which have been affected are not carnivorous so would not bite a person or animal but as they feast on fruit the concern is that the virus could be left on produce which is then consumed by people.
“It's conceivable some people were infected with the virus in the past. Now that scientists know what it looks like, they are looking for it in other bats as well as humans and other animals', Mr Donis added.
The researchers will now look to infect healthy bats so that they can gauge its severity in the animals and better understand how it is spread.
The findings are eerily similar to those set out in the Hollywood movie Contagion, in which a disease from bats causes a worldwide epidemic.