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New virus found in China could unleash another pandemic: Report

Mumbai | Updated on June 30, 2020 Published on June 30, 2020

Researchers in China have found a new type of swine flu that could trigger another pandemic worldwide, according to a study published in the US science journal PNAS on Monday, Agence France Presse reported.

The new flu has originated from the H1N1 strain that gave birth to a pandemic in 2009. The new strain is called G4. It possesses "all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans," say the authors, scientists at Chinese universities, and China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the study, researchers collected around 30,000 nasal swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses in 10 Chinese provinces. This helped them isolate 179 swine flu viruses from 2011 to 2018. The new kind of virus was dominant among pigs, especially since 2016.

The researchers then experimented on ferrets, which are widely used in flu studies because they experience similar symptoms to humans -- principally fever, coughing, and sneezing.

G4 was observed to be highly infectious, replicating in human cells, and causing more severe symptoms in ferrets than other viruses, the AFP report added.

Tests revealed that humans’ immunity system against seasonal flu could not fight the G4virus.

According to blood tests that showed up antibodies created by exposure to the virus, 10.4 per cent of swine workers had already been infected.

The tests showed that as many as 4.4 per cent of the general population also appeared to have been exposed.

Scientists are sure that the virus has passed on to humans from animals. However, they are still not sure whether it is communicable amongst humans as well.

"It is of concern that human infection of G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a human pandemic," the researchers wrote.

The authors called for urgent measures to monitor people working with pigs.

"The work comes as a salutary reminder that we are constantly at risk of a new emergence of zoonotic pathogens and that farmed animals, with which humans have greater contact than with wildlife, may act as the source for important pandemic viruses," said James Wood, head of the department of veterinary medicine at Cambridge University as cited in the AFP report.

Published on June 30, 2020
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