WASHINGTON - A new strain of influenza A has been found in fruit bats, indicating for the first time that bats, like birds, can be carriers of the virus, though it is not believed risky to humans, US health authorities said Monday.
"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," said Suxiang Tong, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's pathogen discovery program.
"The study is important because the research has identified a new animal species that may act as a source of flu viruses."
The influenza A virus was detected in a sample of three of 316 live little yellow-shouldered bats captured at two different sites in Guatemala.
That type of bat is not known to bite humans but feeds on fruit, and is native to Central and South America.
Previous flu pandemics, such as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, which came to the public's attention as "swine flu," have been known to originate in animals and eventually transform so that they gain the ability to infect people.
"Fortunately, initial laboratory testing suggests the new virus would need to undergo significant changes to become capable of infecting and spreading easily among humans," said Ruben Donis, chief of the Molecular Virology and Vaccines Branch in CDC's Influenza Division.
"A different animal - such as a pig, horse or dog - would need to be capable of being infected with both this new bat influenza virus and human influenza viruses for reassortment to occur."
More details about the findings are published in the US journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.