New Influenza Virus with 'Pandemic Potential' Found In China

Swine flu originates in pigs farmed for food

"[We] need to be vigilant and continue surveillance even in the coronavirus pandemic". "Will this one do it?" A study of the new virus was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team of Chinese researchers who looked at influenza viruses found in pigs from 2011 to 2018 and found a "G4" strain of H1N1 that has "all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus", according to a study published by the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The potentially risky strain of influenza is thought to be a blend of three flu strains and has already leapt to humans. "From the data presented, it appears that this is a swine influenza virus that is poised to emerge in humans", says Edward Holmes, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney who studies pathogens. Scientists say it is similar to 2009 swine flu, but with some new changes.

According to a study conducted by the researchers, immediate action should be taken in order to curb the potential spread of the new strain, calling it "essential for early warning and preparedness for the next potential pandemic".

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

Researchers then infected ferrets with the virus, as they experience similar symptoms to humans, to see how people may react to it.

While it hasn't posed a big threat yet, scientists have found evidence of recent infection in people who worked in abattoirs and the swine industry in China. But so far, there's no evidence that suggests the occurrence of human-to-human transmission.

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

"If it does? We know how to make vaccines for influenza viruses". "And there's a risk that we neglect influenza and other threats at this time" of COVID-19.

The new study offers but a tiny glimpse into swine influenza strains in China, which has 500 million pigs.

"Clearly it can infect human cells, and in fact there has been a couple of cases in humans, however this virus hasn't been able to be transmitted between humans so those human cases are sort of dead end, spill over infections". The researchers found antibodies to the G4 strain in 4.4% of 230 people studied in a household survey-and the rate more than doubled in swine workers.

While these existing flu vaccines do not seem to protect against the new G4 EA H1N1, they could be modified to do so.

"We have got to get that message out that we are all in this together", he said.

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