Researchers Find New Strain Of Flu In China With 'Pandemic Potential'

Henrietta Brewer
July 1, 2020

As the world grapples with the new coronavirus pandemic, researchers have discovered a new type of swine flu virus that can infect people and has the potential to cause a future pandemic. They noted that pig farm workers in the 10 provinces also showed high levels of the virus in their blood. This shows the virus can pass to humans, however, it's not yet been proven to be able to pass from person to person.

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.

The virus has therefore already passed from animals to humans but there is no evidence yet that it can be passed from human to human - the scientists' main worry. The new strain is called G4.

While the virus is not able to spread from person to person, the researchers were anxious because it continues to circulate through pig populations.

The scientists have reportedly found that 10.4 percent of the swine workers have already been exposed to the virus and the 4.4 percent of the general population has been exposed.

The Chinese and British based researchers, who published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, said that G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs should be closely monitored in human populations, especially among workers in the swine industry. But two cases of the G4 infections have been recorded so far.

Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist at Harvard University in the United States, who is unrelated to the study, tweeted that the virus is just in pigs for now.

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The last pandemic that humanity faced before the current wave of coronavirus was swine flu in 2009, which started in Mexico.

"There's no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans, despite five years of extensive exposure", he said on Twitter after the paper's publication.

500 million pigs in China, the largest amount of pigs in the world, this discovery could cause serious issues if the strain were to jump across to humans.

"What the paper does do is something important for the epidemiological community: it points to a virus that we need to be keeping a careful eye on", Bergstrom said. "Influenza can surprise us", Nelson says.

It added that a meeting with Philippine Inter-Agency Committee on Zoonoses will be held this week to come up with a framework in managing emerging diseases that affect animals and humans.

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