Amid the controversy surrounding the potential release of heavily weaponized H5N1 bird flu, scientists are now reporting that they have found evidence of flu in bats, and state that the risk to humans is unclear.
Being labeled as ‘bat flu’, the discovery marks the first documented report of a flu virus in winged mammals. For now, scientists have not been able to grow the virus and are unaware of how easily the virus can spread.
The news shocked many scientists who previously thought that the flu had already been discovered in all possible animals. While flu bugs have been tracked in animals such as dogs, horses, whales, and seals, bats were never thought to contract the flu. Interestingly, however, it may have been discovered around five years ago.
‘Most people are fairly convinced we had already discovered flu in all the possible’ animals, said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist Ruben Donis, who co-wrote the bat flu study.
The news could not have come at a better time for some scientists who continue to push for a release of the mutated H5N1 bird flu strain, which was mutated 5 times in order to become highly contagious between ferrets – the very animal model used to study human flu infection. Taking attention away from the bird flu release controversy, bat flu may soon become the new focus in the field of potentially threatening viruses.
For now, the WHO says that the weaponized strain will not be released until a panel of ‘experts’ determines it to be safe. Paul Keim, chair of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, explained how volatile of a weapon the mutated bird flu could become:
‘This is such a dangerous biological weapon, it would not be controllable. Whoever used it would doubtlessly decimate their own people as well,’ Keim said.
Scientists say that bat flu could potentially pose a risk to humans if it were to mingle with more common forms of influenza, swap genes, and mutate into something more dangerous.
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This article first appeared at Natural Society, an excellent resource for health news and vaccine information.