Opinion and Editorial

KT edit: New swine flu strain a cause for concern

Filed on July 1, 2020


This swine flu variant appears to be more potent but it is still too early to determine if it has mutated to move between humans

Another pandemic is the last thing the world needs at this critical period in history when it is tackling Covid-19 that has sickened more than 10 million people and has claimed 500,000 lives. Scientists in China have raised the alarm after reporting a new and complex strain of swine flu that has the makings of the next pandemic or a large outbreak. Even an outbreak of this strain at this juncture could stymie efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the world. Health systems are crippled in many countries and could go under if a major disease with high rates of transmission like Covid-19 is allowed to spread. The last swine flu (H1N1) was termed a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2009. Data shows 151,700 to 575,400 people died in the first year of that pandemic alone. Unlike Covid-19, H1NI1 was severe or fatal among younger people.
This swine flu variant appears to be more potent but it is still too early to determine if it has mutated to move between humans. Studies must be expedited to understand the behaviour of this virus that has three lineages: Asian, European and North American - a mix of avian, human, and pig influenza viruses, that makes it more complex. China has the largest pig population in the world (500 million) and these animals infecting humans is a common occurrence. Human-to-human transmission has not been detected yet which should give health authorities more time to chart a course of action. However, what is troubling is multiple strains of influenza viruses infecting the same pig - a process known as 'reassortment' - could result in a deadlier strain that could seep into the human population. Scientists say they have detected one named 'G4'. The origin of this strain is birds, and it has been in circulation from 2016. Cases with this strain are increasing. Hence, surveillance of the spread among the animals should be maintained in China. A WHO team and other international experts should make an assessment of the situation in the thousands of farms housing these animals in the country. Transparency and information-sharing is vital in preventing any major outbreak with the coronavirus pandemic still wreaking havoc across the world. The good news: the annual flu shot works against swine flu. Pharma labs should begin work to study and develop a likely vaccine candidate against this viral strain if human-to-human transmission is confirmed. There is no room for complacency. The world must act now.

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