New Swine Flu in China Has Pandemic Potential, Study Says

By Ryan Gandolfo, June 30, 2020

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A new type of flu carried by pigs that can infect humans has been identified in China, according to a study published on Monday. The authors, mainly scientists from Chinese universities and China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, stated that the influenza virus, named genotype 4 (G4), has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.”

The Guardian reported that between 2011 and 2018, researchers conducted 30,000 nasal swabs from pigs located in Chinese slaughterhouses as well as a veterinary hospital. One hundred and seventy-nine swine flu viruses were isolated, with the majority exhibiting a new kind of virus that has been prominent among pigs since 2016. The study showed that over 10% of 338 swine workers had been infected, according to antibody blood tests.

In the paper, scientists called for strict measures to closely monitor and control the virus in pigs as well as workers in the swine industry.

A severe new strain of influenza is identified as a top disease threat that the scientific community is monitoring, according to the BBC. This new flu strain is said to be similar to the 2009 swine flu, which lasted for about 19 months and resulted in an estimated 284,000 deaths according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, there is no evidence that this new strain can be passed from human to human, which is considered the main worry for risk of a human pandemic.

Martha Nelson, a US-based evolutionary biologist who studies pig influenza viruses in the US and their spread to humans, said “the likelihood that this particular variant is going to cause a pandemic is low,” as cited by Science. Although she does point out that “we need to be vigilant about other infectious disease threats even as COVID is going on because viruses have no interest in whether we’re already having another pandemic.”

The current COVID-19 pandemic has amassed over 10 million confirmed cases and 500,000 deaths globally. On Monday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus claimed that the pandemic “isn’t even close to being over,” criticizing many governments’ subpar performance in testing, tracing, isolating and quarantining infected individuals.

[Cover image via Pixabay]

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