I’m one of the unlucky few in South Africa who contracted swine flu back when it was doing the rounds in 2009, which landed me in hospital.
It wasn’t nearly as bad as what some who contract the coronavirus go through, but I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience.
Unfortunately, viruses are adaptable little feckers and swine flu, or the H1N1 strain, is no different.
They tend to evolve.
And here we are, looking at the second virus of the year with “pandemic potential”, although, at this point, it seems relatively contained.
Over to The Guardian:
Researchers in China have discovered a new type of swine flu that is capable of triggering a pandemic, according to a study in the US science journal PNAS.
Named G4, it is genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009.
It possesses “all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans”, said the authors, scientists at Chinese universities and China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the study published on Monday.
Between 2011 and 2018, scientists collected roughly 30 000 nasal swabs from pigs in 10 Chinese provinces and a veterinary hospital, through which they’ve been able to isolate 179 swine flu cases.
Good to know that they’re on top of things.
The majority were of a new kind that has been dominant among pigs since 2016.
The researchers then carried out various experiments – including on ferrets, which are widely used in flu studies because they experience similar symptoms to humans.
G4 was observed to be highly infectious, replicating in human cells and causing more serious symptoms in ferrets than other viruses do.
More, per Science:
Jude Children’s Research Hospital, says it’s a “guessing game” as to whether this strain will mutate to readily transmit between humans, which it has not done yet.
“We just do not know a pandemic is going to occur until the damn thing occurs,” Webster says, noting that China has the largest pig population in the world.
“Will this one do it? God knows.”
Swine flu occurs when multiple strains of influenza infect the same pig and then have some kind of virus orgy by swapping genes in a process called “reassortment”.
The G4 variant is especially concerning because its core is an avian influenza virus—to which humans have no immunity—with bits of mammalian strains mixed in.
“From the data presented, it appears that this is a swine influenza virus that is poised to emerge in humans,” says Edward Holmes, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney who studies pathogens.
“Clearly this situation needs to be monitored very closely.”
Back to The Guardian, which reports that scientists noted further that immunity provided from a flu shot or seasonal flu, in general, does nothing to immunise people from swine flu.
The tests also showed that as many as 4.4% of the general population also appeared to have been exposed.
The virus has therefore already passed from animals to humans but there is no evidence yet that it can be passed from human to human – the scientists’ main worry.
“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.
Researchers are calling for urgent action before we have another global crisis on our hands.
Enough with the pandemics, now.
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