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New swine flu virus: potential to spark human pandemic

July 1, 2020 at 3:38 PM , Der AUDITOR
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FRANKFURT. Media reports state that researchers in China have issued warnings over a new H1N1 swine flu strain that spreads to humans. Blood tests showed that workers in pig farms in China have a high degree of antibodies of the virus. Scientist throughout the world agree that further tests and controls are required to prevent a possible pandemic.

Urgent call for close monitoring

The findings are based on a study published online in the National Academy of Sciences' journal Proceedings on Monday. A team of researchers surveilled pigs in ten provinces in China between 2011 and 2018. Over the last three years the scientists sampled 388 blood tests from workers on 15 pig pig farms and from 230 people leving in households nearby. As many as 10.4% of the workers and 4.4% of teh household members tested positive for antibodies for a new G4 EA strain of the H1N1 virus, which has been prevalent in pigs since 2016. Problem is that "G4 viruses have all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus", as stated in the summary of the study posted on the PNAS website. The high rate of infectivitiy is alos highly alarming since"[s]uch infectivity greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses". Although the candidates sampled show no symptoms of an illness, scientists agree that this could quickly change and pose a great risk. The H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, triggered a global pandemic in 2009, which caused the death of around 285,000 people as a study in The Lancet estimates. As the virus easily replicates in human airways, the study calls for action. "Controlling the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented".

Monitoring is especially required in densely populated regions of China, where millions live in the immediate vicinity of farms, breeding facilities, slaughterhouses and fairs. In this respect, parallels to the coronavirus are brought to mind, which is thought to have originated from horseshoe bats in southwest China and to have spread to humans via a fish market in Wuhan, where the virus was first identified. The coronavirus has had such fatal impact because of human-to-human transmission.

Transmission from person to person is not certain

Scientists have also called for tests to be conducted on the new swin flu strain to ascertain in how far a human to human transmission is possible. If this is the case, the risk of a pandemic is much higher. As the influenza vaccination appears to have no impact on the new virus strain samples in the blood test immunity to other influenza pathogens does not provide protection. Although the virus is capable of infecting humans, there is no immediate risk of a new pandemic, as Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington, reckons. James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, however, warns that humans are constantly exposed to the risk of recurrence of zoonotic pathogens, including coronaviruses, and that farm animals could be an important carrier.

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