Dr. Fauci Says Officials Monitoring New Flu Strain In China, But It’s Not An ‘Immediate Threat’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said United States health officials will be monitoring a new Swine Flu appearing in Chinese pig farms, after a new study suggested that the swine flu virus “raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses.”

While Dr. Fauci said that the public shouldn’t worry about the virus actively infecting humans at the moment — and is “not a so-called immediate threat” — he explained that the virus is “exhibiting what we call reassortment capabilities.”

“In other words, when you get a brand new virus that turns out to be a pandemic virus, it’s either due to mutations and/or the reassortment or exchanges of genes,” Dr. Fauci said during a Senate hearing Tuesday. “They’re seeing virus in swine, in pigs now, that have characteristics of the 2009 H1N1, of the original 1918, which many of our flu viruses have remnants of that in it, as well as segments from other hosts, like swine.”

“When they all mix up together, and they contain some of the elements that might make them susceptible to being transmitted to humans, you’ll always have the possibility that you might have another swine flu-type outbreak as we had in 2009,” said Dr. Fauci. 

The study, which was conducted using data collected from pigs in China between 2011 and 2018, found that the virus “has been predominant in swine populations since 2016.” Furthermore, serological surveillance data showed that out of 338 pig farm workers, 10.4% were positive for the virus.

According to CNBC News, the scientists have observed that it has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” but have emphasized that the virus is not an immediate threat.

However, Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist from Columbia University who was not involved in the study, noted on Twitter that there seems to be “no report that any of the seropositive people with antibodies actually were seriously ill.” As such, she suggests the virus may not be “adapted as a human pathogen” or not be “very pathogenic.”

Li-Min Haung, director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at National Taiwan University Hospital, told The New York Times that scientists now need to determine whether workers were the source of spread to others. 

“It’s a very important study, and the virus looks quite dangerous,” said Dr. Huang. “We need to be worried about any disease with the potential to spread human to human.”

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