Fruit bats in Guatemala are hosting a novel subtype of influenza A virus, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The virus — designated H17 — appears to have diverged from known influenza viruses long ago, shedding light on their evolution. Therefore, it seems to pose no immediate threat to humans. However, it is similar enough to other subtypes that genetic exchange with them could pose a risk. “We can’t say don’t worry about it, nor can we say it’s not dangerous. We just don’t know yet,” says study co-author Ruben Donis, chief of molecular virology and vaccines in the influenza division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.
Donis and his colleagues are now testing bats in South America, Africa and Asia to document the geographical distribution of influenza — the first step towards determining whether bats are a reservoir behind outbreaks in humans