New swine flu virus found in China: Can it trigger another pandemic?

This new type of swine flu in China has the potential to become another pandemic. Welp

However, Chinese researchers warned in the paper: "Controlling the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, especially workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented".

The remarks came after a study, published Monday, profiled a new flu virus found in Chinese pigs which had mutated and become more infectious to humans, raising concerns of a potential new "pandemic virus" at some point in the future.

The new flu strain has "all the hallmarks" of being highly infectious to humans, researchers said in a paper.

As the nation holds the largest amount of pigs, it's imperative that "systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs is essential for early warning and preparedness for the next potential pandemic", as per the researchers' study. There may be 10 times as many infected people in the world as the official numbers since many people are asymptomatic carriers of the illness.

The flu strain, dubbed "G4 EA H1N1", is similar to the 2009 swine flu, and can grow and multiply in the cells that line the human airways, the BBC reports. Some experts say that the virus does not now pose an imminent threat.

Tests also showed that humans have little or no immunity to G4, even those who have been exposed to seasonal flu.

IMAGE Foreign Policy
IMAGE Foreign Policy

So far, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus. "Clearly this situation needs to be monitored very closely".

Workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) take care of a group of people wearing face masks as they wait to undergo COVID-19 coronavirus tests in Beijing, China, on June 19, 2020. But researchers say current drugs could be adapted to work against the new virus too if needed.

Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. "But we must not lose sight of potentially risky new viruses", Kin-Chow Chang of Nottingham University in the United Kingdom who was also not involved in the research tells the BBC.

However, before you go dashing out to stock up on toilet roll, it's important to note that the study authors are not saying that a swine flu pandemic is imminent. From 2011 to 2018, scientists collected 30,000 nasal swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses in 10 different provinces as well as a veterinary hospital. He said the study was a "salutary reminder that we are constantly at risk of a new emergence of zoonotic pathogens and that farmed animals, with which humans have greater contact than with wildlife, may act as the source for important pandemic viruses".

"It also highlights we can not let our guard down on influenza and need to be vigilant and continue surveillance even in the coronavirus pandemic", said Lindmeier.


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