Flu strain with pandemic potential found in pigs in China

Grant Boone
July 1, 2020

The 2009 pig virus is already covered by existing flu vaccines, but they do not offer protection against this new strain. "But we must not lose sight of potentially unsafe new viruses", Kin-Chow Chang of Nottingham University in the United Kingdom who was also not involved in the research tells the BBC.

More than one in 10 workers who handled swine had already been infected with G4, according to antibody blood tests conducted by the study authors.

According to News.com, the new strain called G4 EA H1N1 genetically descended from the H1N1 swine flu strain that resulted in the 2009 pandemic.

As part of a project to identify potential pandemic influenza strains, a team led by Liu Jinhua from the China Agricultural University (CAU) analyzed almost 30,000 nasal swabs taken from pigs at slaughterhouses in 10 Chinese provinces, and another 1000 swabs from pigs with respiratory symptoms seen at their school's veterinary teaching hospital. And though G4 holds H1N1 genes, people who have received seasonal flu vaccines won't have any immunity.

This is similar to H1N1 swine flu, which caused the 2009 pandemic. "The likelihood that this particular variant is going to cause a pandemic is low", said the expert who studies pig influenza viruses in the U.S. and their spread to humans.

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

"This G4 virus has only been found in pigs so far".

IMAGE Foreign Policy
IMAGE Foreign Policy

"We just do not know a pandemic is going to occur until the damn thing occurs", Webster said.

Professor Kin-Chow Chang and his colleagues at Nottingham University say they are closely monitoring this new strain, which they are calling G4 EA H1N1.

Influenza viruses frequently jump from pigs to humans, but most do not then transmit between humans.

The study also focused on the possibility of viruses crossing the species barrier into humans, particularly in densely populated regions in China, where millions live in close proximity to farms, breeding facilities, slaughterhouses and wet markets. 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.

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.

"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", the scientist tweeted about the new research.

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