Chinese scientists warn of possible new pandemic virus in pigs

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SHANGHAI, June 30 (Reuters) – A new flu virus found in pigs in China has become more infectious to humans and should be closely watched in case it becomes a potential “pandemic virus,” a study said. Although experts said there is no imminent threat.

FILE PHOTO: Local workers collect a blood sample from a pig on a farm in Zhangye, Gansu Province, China, October 28, 2019. REUTERS / Stringer

A team of Chinese researchers examined the influenza viruses found in pigs between 2011 and 2018 and found a “G4” strain of H1N1 that has “all the essential characteristics of a possible pandemic virus,” according to the document, published by the US magazine. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Pig farm workers also showed elevated levels of the virus in their blood, the study authors said, adding that “close monitoring should be urgently implemented in human populations, especially in workers in the pig industry.”

The study highlights the risks of viruses crossing the species’ barrier to humans, especially in China’s densely populated regions, where millions of people live in close proximity to farms, breeding facilities, slaughterhouses and wet markets.

The coronavirus that is currently sweeping the world is believed to have originated from horseshoe bats in southwest China and may have leaped to humans at a seafood market in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first identified. .

The World Health Organization (WHO) will read the study carefully, spokesman Christian Lindmeier said in a Geneva appearance Tuesday, saying it is important to collaborate on the findings and keep statistics on animal populations.

“It also shows that we cannot let our guard down on influenza and we must be vigilant and continue surveillance even in the coronavirus pandemic,” he added.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press conference on Tuesday that authorities are closely following developments. “We will take all necessary measures to prevent the spread and outbreak of any virus,” he said.

The study indicated that pigs are considered important “mixing vessels” for the generation of pandemic influenza viruses and called for “systematic surveillance” of the problem.

The new virus identified in the study is a recombination of the 2009 H1N1 variant and a strain that previously prevailed in pigs.

However, while it is capable of infecting humans, there is no imminent risk of a new pandemic, said Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington.

“There is no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans, despite five years of extensive exposure,” he said on Twitter. “That is the key context to consider.”

Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing and Emma Farge in Geneva. Edited in Spanish by Carlos Serrano

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