As global medical personnel continue their endless battle against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, virologists and infectious disease specialists are gearing up for a battle against the next potential threat: G4 EA H1N1 swine influenza.
The virus, which has been in existence already for several years in China, appears to be exhibiting “reassortment capabilities,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the nation’s top infectious diseases expert.
Fauci warned Tuesday in Washington DC at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing that a new virus can leads to a pandemic when it has mutated or due to a reassortment or exchange of genes.
“And they’re seeing a virus in swines,” he said, “now that have characteristics of the 2009 H1N1, of the original 1918 [influenza] – which many of our flu viruses have remnants of that in it – as well as segments from other hosts like swine.
“When they all mix up together and contain some of the elements that might make it susceptible to being transmitted to humans, yo always have the possibility that you might have another swine-flu-type outbreak as we have in 2009. It’s something that’s still in the stage of examination, it’s not so-called an immediate threat where you’re seeing infections, but it’s something we need to keep our eye on just the way we did in 2009 with the emergence of the swine flu,” he said.
This strain of swine influenza has been common on Chinese pig farms since 2016, as mentioned above, but also replicates efficiently in human airways, according to a new study that was published this past Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Ominously, it has “all the essential hall marks of being highly adapted to infect humans,” the researchers warned.
The study was a collaboration between government agencies in China that included the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) and the UK’s University of Nottingham.
The research was based on surveillance of pigs in 10 Chinese provinces from 2011 to 2018. In the final three years of the research, scientists studied serological samples from 108 workers on 15 pig farms and 230 residents of nearby households.
According to the researchers, pigs are actually the intermediate hosts for the generation of this “pandemic influenza virus;” they warned “systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs is a key measure for prewarning the emergency of the next pandemic influenza … G4 viruses have all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.
“Of concern is that swine workers show elevated seroprevalence for G4 virus,” the researchers wrote.
“Controlling the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in swine industry, should be urgently implemented,” the researchers added.
As with COVID-19, humans have little or no immunity to this virus, because it is new.
As yet there is no evidence the virus, which is genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009, can spread from person to person. However, it also took time before such evidence became clear with SARS-CoV-2 as well — which is why the researchers have expressed such deep concern.
The study showed 10.4 percent of swine workers and up to 4.4 percent of the general population may have been exposed to the virus, according to a report by AFP, published by the South China Morning Post.