Sunday 17 March 2019

Bat flu can now spread to humans, scientists say

Scientists have discovered that bat flu viruses can enter through a receptor cell which humans share, writes Muhammad Munir
Scientists first discovered bat flu viruses in 2012. Although these were influenza A viruses, there was something strange about them – the way they infected their host’s cells seemed to be different from other influenza A viruses. Given the justified fear over zoonotic diseases (those that cross from animals to humans, such as bird flu), the race was on to discover how these viruses operated.
Scientists at the University of Zurich have just won that race. They recently reported in Nature that they have identified the gateway (“receptor”) that lets the bat flu viruses enter their host’s cells and cause infection. Unfortunately, this receptor also exists on the cells of certain livestock and, more worryingly for us, humans.
Flu viruses (of the non-bat variety) infect several livestock species by binding to a molecule called sialic acid on cells that line the respiratory tract of these animals. Similar receptors are also found on cells in the human respiratory tract, especially in the lungs, hence the spread of bird and swine flu to humans.

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