CHINA is reporting a new strain of swine flu with potential to cause another pandemic.
The new flu is has been labeled “very, very dangerous” by Chinese researchers who revealed its discovery yesterday.
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Named genotype 4, or G4, the new strain of swine flu is genetically descended from the H1N1 swine flu strain that caused a pandemic in 2009, which claimed around 284,000 lives.
The G4 virus was observed to be highly infectious, replicating in human cells and causing more serious symptoms in ferrets, which experience similar symptoms to humans, than other viruses.
The discovery has sparked fears that the bug could mutate and spread easily from pigs to people and spread like Covid-19.
Chinese state-controlled media has dismissed concerns with warnings not to “overreact”, an eerily similar reaction to how they first downplayed Coronavirus.
‘ALL THE ESSENTIAL HALLMARKS’
Scientists at Chinese universities and China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention are saying that G4 possesses “all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans.”
G4 was found to bind to human-type receptors, attack airway cells found in the throat and lungs, and show “efficient infectivity and aerosol transmission”
They believe that one in 10 people who worked with pigs in China are said to have contracted G4.
It hits younger workers harder, with 20.5 per cent of subjects aged 18 to 35 testing positive.
The study reads: “Such infectivity greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses”
Tests showed that any immunity humans gain from exposure to seasonal flu does not provide protection from G4.
Researchers took thousands of swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses in Chinese provinces and a veterinary hospital over the course of the last 7 years, allowing them to isolate 179 swine flu viruses.
The majority were of a new kind which has been dominant among pigs since 2016.
“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.
Professor Esther Choo, an American emergency physician and US science communicator, warned in a tweet: “2020 may not be done with us yet.”
Professor Choo quoted a colleague, an infectious diseases expert, as saying: “I rarely get worried, but this one bears close watching. This flu strain is very, very dangerous.”
The authors called for urgent measures to monitor people working with pigs.
Professor James Wood, who is an infectious diseases expert at the UK’s Cambridge University, said G4’s discovery highlighted the ease at which viruses can jump the species barrier.
He said: “The work comes as 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.”
However other scientists have said it poses a lesser threat, saying that the virus hasn’t hit the human population in a big way in spite of years of exposure.
Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington, 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.”
CHINA DENIES THE G4 THREAT
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference on Tuesday that China is closely following G4 developments.
He said: “We will take all necessary measures to prevent the spread and outbreak of any virus.”
The Chinese state-run Global Times reported that a veterinary medicine expert “close to the G4 research team” said the new virus was similar to swine flu and was “preventable”.
The unnamed expert allegedly said that while G4 had the potential to jump to humans, “the chance of human-to-human transmission is minor”.
The 2009 outbreak of G4’s cousin, H1N1, lasted 19 months and claimed 284,000 lives between January 2009 and August 2010.
The Global Times claimed that there were only 60million cases, however this number is a fraction of other countries’ estimates and figures.
According to the CDC there were 491,382 confirmed cases globally, with estimates ranging up to 1.4billion suspected cases.
The current counts for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which is believed to have spread from animals to humans too, is 10,485,763 cases and 511,543 official deaths.