Bats make up one third of the mammalian species on Earth and are an important part of our ecosystem. They play an important role by pollinating plants and eating unwanted bugs. However, now they face a new problem that may be reducing bat populations on Earth. Bats are known to be carriers of several diseases such as rabies and Ebola but now avian flu, which was thought to only affect wild aquatic animals,birds,and poultry, has now been found to affect bats.
Researchers in South and Central America studying pathogen diversity in bats identified the presence of two different strains of influenza virus in fruit bats. In addition to this, researchers in Africa found that 30 percent of bats were infected with the flu but did not show symptoms. These discoveries led Suresh Kuchipudi, an associate professor of virology at Penn State to ask whether bats can be affected with more than just avian flu. His research team used a sample of 20 brown bats to study whether or not bats can become co-infected with both the avian flu virus and the human flu virus. Bats that are co-infected may be contributors to a more widespread strain of influenza due to the mixing of the two different influenza viruses. Results of their study showed that bats have different receptors in both their respiratory and digestive tracts that recognize and help the binding of the human and avian influenza viruses.
Kuchipudi mentions that evolution of these influenza strains creates mutations in the virus that can cause the disease to jump among species. Influenza infects a wide range of species including humans, birds, and other wild and domestic animals. Interactions between humans and bats has greatly increased within recent years due to wildlife trading, hunting, bushmeat, urban development and deforestation. However according to Kuchipudi, there is no need to create a public health issue or be concerned about contracting a “bat flu” any time soon because there is insufficient evidence to conclude which strains of influenza will create the next pandemic and where they come from. Since this study was fairly recent, further research must me done to determine how the influenza virus manifests itself in bats.