Flu strain with pandemic potential found in pigs in China

James Marshall
July 1, 2020

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. The potentially risky strain of influenza is thought to be a blend of three flu strains and has already leapt to humans.

As the world sputters amid a global coronavirus pandemic that may have originated from bats in China, researchers released a study on Monday indicating that pigs could transmit a pandemic-level flu strain to humans.

This is the H1N1 strain that caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic (from January 2009 to August 2010, leading to the death of 18,000 humans) and a North American H1N1 that caused the 2009 flu pandemic in North America.

When a pig catches multiple strains of influenza, it becomes a sort of a mixing vessel for viruses, which can swap and replace genetic material in a process known as reassortment. It leads to a creation of a new virus, which appears to be the case with G4.

The researchers said that pigs are intermediate hosts for the strain of influenza, which researchers are concerned could spread to humans.

Such infectivity, according to the scientists, greatly enhances the opportunity for the virus to adapt to humans and raises concerns about the possible generation of pandemic viruses.

"Influenza can surprise us", Nelson told Science.

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

"You're really not getting a good snapshot of what is dominant in pigs in China", according to Dr. Nelson, who also said there is a need for more sampling. The virus, however, can't be transmitted from person-to-person.

The scientists have reportedly found that 10.4 percent of the swine workers have already been exposed to the virus and the 4.4 percent of the general population has been exposed. "Making the seed stock is not a big deal, and we should have it ready", Webster says. Nelson says USA farms commonly do, but the vaccine has little effect because it's often outdated and doesn't match circulating strains.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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