New H1N1 Influenza Virus Detected - Expert Reaction

Researchers believe the strain could mutate allowing to spread easily between humans. Source Getty file image

The news that pigs in China are becoming more and more frequently infected with a strain of influenza that could be harmful to humans has struck a red alert amongst researchers.

CNN cites remarks from Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University's school of public health.

As the nation holds the largest amount of pigs, it's imperative that "systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs is essential for early warning and preparedness for the next potential pandemic", as per the researchers' study.

Noting that the new virus has "all the hallmarks" of being highly adapted to infect humans, the researchers stressed the need for close monitoring.

While some of the viruses only showed up once and were considered non-threatening, the G4 virus appeared in pigs year after year, with its presence increasing sharply after 2016. "Sure, this virus meets a lot of the basic criteria but it's not for sure going to cause a hypothetical 2020 flu pandemic, or even be a dominant strain in humans".

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

"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", Fauci stated at a hearing held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

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"This G4 virus has only been found in pigs so far". "There's no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans". 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. The swabs, collected between 2011 and 2018, yielded 179 swine influenza viruses, the vast majority of which were G4 or one of five other G strains from the Eurasian avianlike lineage.

"Close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented", the paper said.

They also found that pig farm workers had elevated levels of the virus in their blood.

Pigs are often intermediate hosts or "mixing vessels" for viruses with pandemic potential to develop in.

Before the coronavirus, the world endured the swine flu pandemic that started in Mexico in 2009, but was less deadly since many older people had some immunity to it because of its similarity to earlier flu viruses. "It's something that still is in the stage of examination", Fauci said, referring to the dangers of G4.

Experts agree that there is no imminent threat from the new strain of swine flu, but that the situation must be monitored closely.

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