New swine flu found in China has pandemic potential

Cheryl Sanders
June 30, 2020

A new strain of swine flu with "pandemic potential" has been identified by scientists in China, according to a newly-released study. But he warned people must not lose sight of potentially risky new viruses when distracted with the coronavirus.

As per the paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the virus has already jumped to humans, and 10.4% of swine workers have been infected.

"The likelihood that this particular variant is going to cause a pandemic is low", said Dr. Martha Nelson, who read the study.

The new flu strain that has been identified in China is similar to 2009 swine flu, but with some new changes.

Liu Jinhua of China Agricultural University in Beijing and George Gao of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention led a team of researchers to investigate the influenza viruses in China's pig herds. Meanwhile, if researchers were to notice an uptick in G4-caused flu cases, they could quickly move to develop antivirals and vaccines against it.

G4 was observed to be highly infectious, replicating in human cells and causing more serious symptoms in ferrets than other viruses.

"It is of concern that human infection of G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a human pandemic", the researchers wrote. They found 179 swine influenza viruses, most of which were G4.

The scientists who found the virus have shown concerns that this virus can mutate further. "The likelihood that this particular variant is going to cause a pandemic is low", said the expert who studies pig influenza viruses in the US and their spread to humans.

"Pork and poultry are also very popular across Asia, so there are huge numbers of the animals in the region - in fact, current statistics show over half the world's pig population is in China". The researchers found antibodies to the G4 strain in 4.4% of 230 people studied in a household survey-and the rate more than doubled in swine workers.

"It would make sense to continue to monitor this closely, and to make preparations for a vaccine for this strain - these measures have both been suggested elsewhere", says Dr Welch. Influenza viruses that commonly circulate in swine are called "swine influenza viruses" or "swine flu viruses". "Making the seed stock is not a big deal, and we should have it ready", Webster says. Nelson says US farms commonly do, but the vaccine has little effect because it's often outdated and doesn't match circulating strains.

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