Scientists have recently uncovered a strain of swine flu virus that according to the researchers “have all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.” So far the virus has not posed any extraordinary threat, but researchers are keeping an eye on.
According to the research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of the United States of America, the new virus dubbed G4 EA H1N1 comes from the same H1N1 virus that caused the 2009 pandemic.
The research comes as a result of influenza virus surveillance of pigs from 2011 to 2018 in China, after testing a total of 30k nasal swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses. It turned out the new virus has been predominant in the swine population since 2016, the researchers state.
Since pigs are considered ‘mixing vessels’ of generations of pandemic influenza viruses, researchers fear that the new G4 virus can mutate to spring into the human population, potentially ushering another pandemic. China is currently the world’s biggest consumer of pork and pork is also the most-consumed flesh in the world as per Pork Checkoff tally.
“Systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs is essential for early warning and preparedness for the next potential pandemic,” the study abstract reads and it concludes by saying that the infection capacity of this strain ‘greatly enhances’ the chances for the virus to ‘adopt’ in humans and raise concern for possible generation of pandemic viruses.
The virus can multiply in the human airway epithelial cells the researchers who mainly hail from Chinese universities note. Serological tests conducted on slaughterhouse workers further unveiled 10.4% (35/338) swine workers were positive along with 4.4% from the general population. The tests were conducted from 10 Chinese provinces and one veterinary clinic, according to reports.
The researchers tested the new strain of viruses they isolated from the pigs on ferrets (an otter-like mammal) which are widely tested with flu because of their similarity with human symptoms. It was found the G4 produced serious symptoms in ferret than other viruses. Tests also showed humans don’t gain immunity from the virus after undergoing seasonal flu.
Prof James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge said this new finding is a ‘salutary reminder’ of our constant face-off with zoonotic pathogens from farm animals, with whom we’re all in greater contact with than wildlife.
The majority of the pandemic viruses have emerged from zoonotic sources including the present novel coronavirus that has so far infected 10 million people globally and has taken more than 500,000 lives. It comes as no surprise how the human-animal relationship that is bind in consumption continues to threaten the very existence.
2009 swine flu pandemic lasted for around 19 months and upended thousands of life.
While as of now there is nothing to worry about, we rely on administrations to keep the needful check on a potential outbreak. What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.