China warns of a new pandemic flu virus
We will take all necessary measures to prevent the spread and outbreak of any virus Zhao Lijian, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman
shanghai — A new flu virus found in Chinese pigs has become more infectious to humans and needs to be watched closely in case it becomes a potential “pandemic virus”, a study said, although experts said there is no imminent threat.
A team of Chinese researchers 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 the paper, published by the US journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Pig farm workers also showed elevated levels of the virus in their blood, the authors said, adding that “close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented”.
The study highlights the risks of viruses crossing the species barrier into humans, especially in densely populated regions in China, where millions live close to farms, breeding facilities, slaughterhouses and wet markets.
The current coronavirus sweeping the world is believed to have
originated in horseshoe bats in southwest China and could have spread to humans via a seafood market in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first identified.
The World Health Organisation will read the Chinese study carefully, spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a Geneva briefing on Tuesday, saying it was important to collaborate on findings and keep tabs on animal populations. “It also highlights we cannot let our guard down on influenza and need to be vigilant and continue surveillance even in the coronavirus pandemic,” he added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference on Tuesday that China was closely following developments. “We will take all necessary measures to prevent the spread and outbreak of any virus,” he said.
The study said pigs were considered important “mixing vessels” for the generation of pandemic influenza viruses and called for “systematic surveillance” of the problem.
China took action against an outbreak of avian H1N1 in 2009, restricting incoming flights from affected countries and putting tens of thousands of people into quarantine.
The new virus identified in the study is a recombination of the 2009 H1N1 variant and a once prevalent strain found in pigs.
But while it is capable of infecting humans, there is no imminent risk of a new pandemic, said Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington. “There’s no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans, despite five years of extensive exposure,” he said on Twitter. “That’s the key context to keep in mind.”—Reuters
Another pandemic is the last thing the world needs at this critical period in history when it is tackling Covid-19 that has sickened more than 10 million people and has claimed 500,000 lives. Scientists in China have raised the alarm after reporting a new and complex strain of swine flu that has the makings of the next pandemic or a large outbreak. Even an outbreak of this strain at this juncture could stymie efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the world. Health systems are crippled in many countries and could go under if a major disease with high rates of transmission like Covid-19 is allowed to spread. The last swine flu (H1N1) was termed a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2009. Data shows 151,700 to 575,400 people died in the first year of that pandemic alone. Unlike Covid-19, H1NI1 was severe or fatal among younger people.
This swine flu variant appears to be more potent but it is still too early to determine if it has mutated to move between humans. Studies must be expedited to understand the behaviour of this virus that has three lineages: Asian, European and North American — a mix of avian, human, and pig influenza viruses, that makes it more complex. China has the largest pig population in the world (500 million) and these animals infecting humans is a common occurance. Human-to-human transmission has not been detected yet which should give health authorities more time to chart a course of action. However, what is troubling is multiple strains of influenza viruses infecting the same pig — a process known as ‘reassortment’ — could result in a deadlier strain that could seep into the human population. Scientists say they have detected one named ‘G4’. The origin of this strain is birds, and it has been in circulation from 2016. Cases with this strain are increasing. Hence, surveillance of the spread among the animals should be maintained in China. A WHO team and other international experts should make an assessment of the situation in the thousands of farms housing these animals in the country. Transparency and information-sharing is vital in preventing any major outbreak with the coronavirus pandemic still wreaking havoc across the world. The good news: the annual flu shot works against swine flu. Pharma labs should begin work to study and develop a likely vaccine candidate against this viral strain if human-to-human transmission is confirmed. There is no room for complacency. The world must act now.