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article imageNew Flu virus discovered in China has 'pandemic potential'

By Karen Graham     Jun 30, 2020 in Science
Chinese researchers have discovered a new type of swine flu that can infect humans and has the potential to cause a future pandemic, according to a study released on Monday.
The new virus, which researchers called the G4 EA H1N1 virus, is genetically descended from the H1N1 swine flu that caused a pandemic in 2009. G4 now shows "all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus," said the study, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on June 29, 2020.
The virus is carried by pigs and has already been transmitted to a small number of humans in China. To date, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission. It possesses “all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans”, said the authors, scientists at Chinese universities and China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the study.
There are two main concerns associated with the G4 virus, and both are assumptions. One - G4 has become highly adapted to infect humans and could possibly mutate and pass from human-to-human.
Two- It is also considered a novel virus, meaning people have little or no immunity to it. It does have some similarities to the last flu pandemic, 2009's swine flu, the BBC reports.
Research from 2011 - 2018
Between 2011 and 2018, Chinese researchers took 30,000 nasal swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses in 10 Chinese provinces and in a veterinary hospital. They were able to isolate 179 swine flu viruses, reports The Guardian.
A new report suggests the pharmaceutical industry played a major role in the 2009 swine flu pandemic...
A new report suggests the pharmaceutical industry played a major role in the 2009 swine flu pandemic declaration.
Most of the viruses isolated were of a new kind, showing up as a dominant virus in pigs since 2016. Given the name G4, further testing found the virus was observed to be highly infectious, replicating in human cells. Tests also showed that any immunity humans gain from exposure to seasonal flu does not provide protection from G4.
G4 has already infected people in Hebei and Shandong provinces, both places with high pig numbers. Further tests show that over 10 percent of swine workers on pig farms and 4.4 percent of the general population tested positive for G4 in a survey from 2016 to 2018, reports CNN.
However, there is no evidence yet that it can be passed from human to human – the scientists’ main worry. Prof Kin-Chow Chang, who works at Nottingham University in the UK, told the BBC: "Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses."
Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington notes that “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.”
More about Flu virus, China, G4 virus, H1n1 swine flu, careful monitoring
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