HEALTH

China researchers discover new swine flu with ‘pandemic potential’

Jun 30, 2020, 6:28 AM
swine flu...
This photo taken on August 10, 2018 shows a pig standing in a pen at a pig farm in Yiyang county, in China's central Henan province. - The powdery yellow mixture of soybean-based feed for pigs -- one-fifth soy -- has become pricier as the trade spat between China and the US escalates, with Beijing slamming US soybean imports with tariffs of 25 percent last month. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP) / TO GO WITH China-US-trade-pork, FOCUS by Becky DAVIS (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

    (CNN) — 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, though scientists have cautioned that the virus does not pose an immediate global health threat.

The disease, which researchers called the G4 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).

But Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University’s public health school, warned the public not to “freak out.”

“Our understanding of what is a potential pandemic influenza strain is limited,” she posted on Twitter. “Sure, this virus meets a lot of the basic criteria but it’s not for sure going to cause a hypothetical 2020 flu pandemic, or even be a dominant strain in humans.”

Chinese researchers based at several institutions, including Shandong Agricultural University and the Chinese National Influenza Center, discovered the G4 virus during a pig surveillance program. From 2011 to 2018, they collected more than 30,000 nasal swab samples from pigs in slaughterhouses and veterinary teaching hospitals across 10 Chinese provinces.

From these samples, researchers identified 179 swine influenza viruses — but not all of them posed a concern. Some only showed up one year out of the program’s seven, or eventually declined to nonthreatening levels.

But the G4 virus kept showing up in pigs, year after year — and even showed sharp increases in the swine population after 2016.

Further tests showed that G4 can infect humans by binding to our cells and receptors, and it can replicate quickly inside our airway cells. And though G4 holds H1N1 genes, people who have received seasonal flu vaccines won’t have any immunity.

G4 already appears to have infected humans in China. In Hebei and Shandong provinces, both places with high pig numbers, more than 10% of swine workers on pig farms and 4.4% of the general population tested positive in a survey from 2016 to 2018.

There is no evidence yet that G4 could spread from person to person — perhaps the most promising sign so far, said Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington.

“This is not a *new* new virus; it’s been very common in pigs since 2016,” he tweeted. “There’s no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans, despite five years of extensive exposure. That’s the key context to keep in mind.”

However, researchers warn in the paper that the virus was on the rise among pig populations, and could “pose a serious threat to human health” if not carefully monitored. Transmission of the virus from pig to human could “lead to severe infection and even death,” said the study, which called for greater control of the virus’ spread within pig populations.

Swine Flu Surveillance and discovery

In 2009, the H1N1 swine flu pandemic killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people globally. In the aftermath, authorities and scientists stepped up surveillance of pig populations to watch for viruses with “pandemic potential.”

Swine flu occurs in people that are in contact with infected pigs. Symptoms are similar to that of regular human influenza and can include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

After 2009, the H1N1 virus in humans spread back into pigs around the world, and the genes mixed into new combinations — creating new viruses like G4.

“Pig farming is a massive industry in China and pigs can be important hosts from which novel influenza viruses may emerge,” said James Wood, Head of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge. He added that the study was a “salutary reminder that we are constantly at risk of 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.”

To decrease the risk of a human pandemic, Chinese farmers and authorities need to control the spread of the virus among pigs, and closely monitor people who work with the animals, said the team.

The new study comes as the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now infected more than 10.3 million people globally and caused more than 505,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The central Chinese city of Wuhan is ground zero for the novel coronavirus, which emerged in December last year and began spreading internationally in January. The outbreak prompted China to impose strict lockdowns nationwide, closing local and provincial borders and ordering residents to stay at home.

The country began reopening in March after largely containing the virus — but new outbreaks and local transmissions in recent weeks have seen some cities go back under lockdown.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

Health

A woman wearing white sitting in front of a light box...
Michelle Lee

Winter blues: light therapy and lifestyle changes can help

SALT LAKE CITY – With the chilly weather and the shorter days, many people are prone to experience the winter blues. In the latest Let’s Get Moving with Maria podcast episode, host Maria Shilaos spoke with Dr. Jason Hunziker from the Huntsman Mental Health Institute about ways people can overcome the winter blues. Seasonal depression […]
1 day ago
A new study finds that reports of bad weather and air actually decrease ridership on the UTA....
Devin Oldroyd

Relief from inversion and poor air quality may be in Utah’s near future

The Beehive State is in the middle of some thick inversion and poor air quality, but relief may be on the way according to the National Weather Service.
3 days ago
A study by Intermountain Health that spanned 40 years and sought answers about the health of people...
Simone Seikaly

Intermountain’s 40-year study provides insight into weight-loss surgery

In some cases the results from the weight-loss surgery study were expected. But at least one result could be a cause for alarm and caution.
3 days ago
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has issued a recall for mil...
Simone Seikaly

Check your pantry, a Conagra canned meat recall may affect you

Millions of pounds of canned meat and poultry products (mainly Vienna sausages) are involved in the Conagra recall.
3 days ago
Two temporary federal pandemic emergency assistance programs are coming to an end in the coming mon...
Waverly Golden

As two federal pandemic emergency-assistance programs near an end, Cox has solutions

Two temporary federal pandemic emergency assistance programs are coming to an end in the coming months due to more job opportunities.
3 days ago
FILE - A doctor loads a dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at ...
Aimee Cobabe

Bill banning vaccine passports heading to Utah Senate

A bill to ban vaccine passports is heading out of the Utah House and into the Utah Senate. The bill is similar to a failed bill from 2022.
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
China researchers discover new swine flu with ‘pandemic potential’