China warns of a new pan­demic flu virus

Khaleej Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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