Swine Flu Strain Has Pandemic Potential

Henrietta Brewer
July 1, 2020

Researchers in China have discovered a new type of swine flu that could be capable of triggering a pandemic, according to a study published on Monday in the USA science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). "But we must not lose sight of potentially unsafe new viruses", Kin-Chow Chang, one of the authors of the research and a professor at Nottingham University, told the BBC.

Researchers are anxious that the virus could mutate, become easily transmitted from person to person and lead to a new epidemic. However, the news that the next viral pandemic will be caused by a new virus found in pigs might be a little premature.

Additional tests indicated that the G4 virus can infect humans by binding to our cells and receptors, and it can replicate quickly inside our airway cells.

It turned out that the elderly have certain levels of immunity, which probably means that there have been similar waves of the disease in the past.

Chinese researchers studying influenza viruses among pig populations between 2011 and 2018 conducted 30,000 nasal swabs from animals in 10 provinces - and found 179 swine flu viruses, the majority of which were of a new kind.

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

But Nelson notes that no one knew about the pandemic H1N1 strain, which jumped from pigs to people, until the first human cases surfaced in 2009.

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.

Kin-Chow told the BBC: "Right we are distracted with coronavirus, and rightly so".

"In other words, when you get a brand new virus that turns out to be a pandemic virus it's either due to mutations and/or the reassortment or exchanges of genes", he told lawmakers.

Although the virus has already passed from animals to humans, there is not yet evidence that it can be transmitted between people. But researchers say current drugs could be adapted to work against the new virus too if needed.

"There is no evidence that G4 poses an immediate threat to humans but it is important to continue close monitoring and surveillance". Therefore, scientists who have been studying the new virus say it is one to keep an eye on.

The WHO official continued, "It also highlights that we can not let down our guard on influenza; we need to be vigilant and continue surveillance even during the COVID-19 pandemic".

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