Chinese researchers warn of new virus in pigs with human pandemic risk

The study highlights the risks of viruses crossing the species barrier into humans, especially in densely populated regions in China. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2020

Chinese researchers warn of new virus in pigs with human pandemic risk

  • A team of Chinese researchers looked at influenza viruses found in pigs from 2011 to 2018 and found a “G4” strain of H1N1
  • They said it has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,”

SHANGHAI: A new flu virus found in Chinese pigs has become more infectious to humans and needs to be watched closely in case it becomes a potential “pandemic virus,” a study said, although experts said there is no imminent threat.
A team of Chinese researchers looked at influenza viruses found in pigs from 2011 to 2018 and found a “G4” strain of H1N1 that has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” according to the paper, published by the US journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Pig farm workers also showed elevated levels of the virus in their blood, the authors said, adding that “close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented.”
The study highlights the risks of viruses crossing the species barrier into humans, especially in densely populated regions in China, where millions live in close proximity to farms, breeding facilities, slaughterhouses and wet markets.
The coronavirus that caused the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have originated in horseshoe bats in southwest China, and could have spread to humans via a seafood market in Wuhan, where the virus was first identified.
The PNAS study said pigs are considered important “mixing vessels” for the generation of pandemic influenza viruses and called for “systematic surveillance” of the problem.
China took action against an outbreak of avian H1N1 in 2009, restricting incoming flights from affected countries and putting tens of thousands of people into quarantine.
The new virus identified in the study is a recombination of the 2009 H1N1 variant and a once prevalent strain found in pigs.
But 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’s no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans, despite five years of extensive exposure,” he said on Twitter after the paper’s publication. “That’s the key context to keep in mind.”


Rome suspends flights from Bangladesh after virus cases

Updated 16 min 49 sec ago

Rome suspends flights from Bangladesh after virus cases

  • Of the 225 arriving Dhaka passengers on Monday, 21 tested positive for the disease, said Lazio’s top health official Alessio D’Amato
  • Lazio has sought to offer more testing for the community of Bangladeshis which numbers about 30,000 in Italy’s capital

ROME: Italy’s health minister ordered the suspension of flights to Rome from Bangladesh on Tuesday, after a spate of coronavirus cases within the community that authorities worry could expand.
On Monday, the Lazio region surrounding Rome issued a special decree calling for passengers from Dhaka to be given virus tests upon their arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.
Of the 225 arriving Dhaka passengers on Monday, 21 tested positive for the disease, Lazio’s top health official Alessio D’Amato said on Tuesday, calling it a “veritable viral ‘bomb’ that we’ve defused.”
Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a statement that a one-week suspension of flights had been ordered.
As of Monday, 32 coronavirus cases had been reported within the Bangladeshi community, Lazio president Nicola Zingaretti wrote in the decree. It was unclear whether that number included the positive cases among the passengers who arrived Monday.
Seventeen of the 32 cases were “imported” from abroad and 15 involved people in contact with those imported cases, the decree said.
It added that a two-week quarantine for passengers from Bangladesh had been insufficient to contain transmission of the virus.
There are currently 870 coronavirus cases in Lazio, with 14,709 in Italy overall, according to the latest official figures.
Since the crisis erupted in Italy in late February, 34,869 people have died of coronavirus, but the rate of new infections has slowed considerably, leading the government to roll back most lockdown restrictions.
Still, Speranza has warned of a possible second wave in the autumn, and has cautioned Italians to wear masks and avoid crowds, among other measures.
“The objective is to prevent the outbreak that is currently seen in Rome in the Bengali community from multiplying,” Francesco Vaia, health director of Rome’s Spallanzani hospital, told news wire AGI.
“It’s essential to put under control airports, ports and stations and activate a health surveillance on citizens coming from the non-Schengen area and in particular from countries where the virus is spreading.”
Beginning last month, passengers from Dhaka have arrived on special flights intended to bring Bangladeshi nationals residing in Italy back to their European homes and jobs following the coronavirus lockdown.
Italy’s borders are only open to those passengers coming from within Europe’s Schengen zone, as well as those from another 14 countries — a list that does not include Bangladesh.
Lazio has sought to offer more testing for the community of Bangladeshis which numbers about 30,000 in Italy’s capital, but only three people showed up at a special clinic offering free testing on Monday, Il Messagero daily said.
About 45,000 Bangladeshis reside in Italy, according to national statistics agency Istat.
Migration from Bangladesh to Italy has grown in recent years and many within the community work illegally in low-paying jobs.
Other cases involving Bangladeshis with links to flights from Dhaka have also been seen in Tuscany, according to news reports.