New Strain of Influenza has Pandemic Potential
Researchers involved in a new study warn that a new strain of influenza could trigger a global outbreak. Swine flus have the potential to turn into contagious viruses and turn deadly. While scientists say there is no reason to panic at this time, if this new flu continues to mutate so that it can spread between people, the world could face yet another pandemic.
What we Know About The New Strain of Swine Flu So Far
In the first week of July, Chinese scientists published results of a new study, warning of a new strain of swine flu. Named G4 EA H1N1, this new virus thrives in human airway cells and can spread through respiratory droplets, like COVID-19. The new G4 virus has “all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans”, according to the study.
Currently, there are no reports of human to human transmission of G4 viruses. Only three human infections have been reported in China, but this new study found one in ten swine workers showed evidence of a prior infection, suggesting that human infection is more common than health researchers first realized. Past infection rates were higher among swine workers between ages 18-35.
COVID-19 first appeared in China and likely originated in bats and transmitted to humans through an unknown intermediary animal. The coronavirus has now infected more than 16 million people globally.
This new G4 virus has genes from a mix of pig, avian and human viruses, as well as genes from the H1N1 flu pandemic virus. Genetic material can mix in a host animal through a process called re-assortment, which then creates a new virus. In 2009, the H1N1 swine flu killed an estimated 285,000 people. That virus is now covered by the annual flu vaccine. The new G4 swine flu strain is a genetic descendant of that H1N1 strain that caused the last global flu pandemic.
Virus Warnings from the CDC
The CDC warns that this new virus is a “potential pandemic concern” because humans have no immunity to novel viruses. This new strain is different from the influenza against which patients are vaccinated each year, so current vaccines would not be effective in prevention. The CDC is working with health partners in China, to determine whether existing flu antiviral drugs might be effective against the new strain. According to their website, the CDC is “taking a number of actions to monitor and prepare against this emerging public health threat”.
It is important to note that the population sample size in the initial study was small. And that no reports have emerged about human to human transmission so far. The new G4 virus has not appeared anywhere in the United States to date. But health officials and Epidemiologists agree that this virus must be monitored and contained.
This new virus highlights the risks posed by factory farming, where diseases can flourish and then mutate between animals and humans.
Be Proactive and Don't Loose Focus Because of Covid-19
Researchers warn that while COVID-19 is a worthy distraction, we cannot let our guard down. COVID-19 has taught us to be better prepared for new threats against global health.
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