You’ve heard of bird (avian) flu and swine flu... now bats?!? New research published in Nature has identified influenza viruses in the winged creatures in South America that could pass to livestock — and yes, humans — in a process called zoonotic transmission (which could also be the name of a rockin’ college band, but we digress).
Most flu viruses bind to host cells in chemicals called sialic acids, which are found on the surface of nearly all human cells and certain animal cells. This is one way that influenza viruses can infect different species.
In bats, however, flu viruses attach to other molecules located on immune system cells that help distinguish between the bat’s own cells/structures and foreign invaders. These cells are a potential “gate of entry,” as the researchers put it, for the spread of bat flu to other species... like us.
On the good news front: Though this study, conducted by the University of Zurich in Switzerland, shows that bat-to-human flu transmission is possible, there haven’t yet been any recorded cases.