Posted: January 9, 2018

Bats eat the bugs that "bug" us and pollinate more than 500 species of plants, including banana and cacao, but despite all of their benefits to humans, the mammals can carry dangerous diseases, such as rabies.

Research now shows they can also host influenza viruses.

Suresh Kuchipudi, associate professor of virology, and colleagues discovered that bats have receptors in their respiratory and digestive tracts that can bind avian and human influenza viruses. Having both receptors, Kuchipudi says, is believed to create conditions that can enable viruses to mutate and create new strains, which, in turn, could infect other animals, including humans.

Influenza infects a wide range of domestic and wild animals. Some are highly specific to one kind of host, but others can be passed between species. "Swine flu" and "avian flu" are examples of previous pandemics in humans caused by influenza viruses that came from animals.

"The remarkable thing about influenza viruses is the ability to constantly change and evolve," says Kuchipudi. "Influenza virus evolution involves mutations in the virus to gain the ability to transmit to a completely different host species."

Despite the team's findings, Kuchipudi says there is not yet a need to worry about "bat flu."

--Amy Duke

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