Flu virus with 'pandemic potential' found in China

Grant Boone
June 30, 2020

Researchers in China say they have identified a new influenza strain in pigs that could be the next "potential pandemic".

"Such infectivity greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses".

Called G4 EA H1N1, this flu is reported to be similar to the 2009 swine flu, which lasted for about 19 months.

In total, more than 10 per cent of swine workers tested positive for the virus, "especially for participants aged 18 to 35 years old, who had 20.5 per cent seropositive rates, indicating that the predominant G4 EA H1N1 virus has acquired increased human infectivity", the researchers wrote.

The majority of which were of a new form of virus which has been dominant among pigs since 2016.

"From the data presented, it appears that this is a swine influenza virus that is poised to emerge in humans", Edward Holmes, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney who studies pathogens, told Science Magazine.

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Mr. Holmes said that "clearly this situation needs to be monitored very closely".

From 2011 to 2018, researchers took 30,000 nasal swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses in 10 Chinese provinces and in a veterinary hospital, allowing them to isolate 179 swine flu viruses.

It's still unclear how lethal the G4 virus might be to humans, partly because infections so far have been sporadic.

He described the research as "interesting" and suggested laboratories begin working on a potential vaccine for the virus.

The G4 influenza has been observed as highly infectious during experiments on ferrets and it possesses "all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans". "And there's a risk that we neglect influenza and other threats at this time" of COVID-19.

The world has remained focused on battling the novel coronavirus, which originated in China. 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. It is to be noted that the researchers made a decision to use ferrets because they experience similar symptoms to humans.

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