China Downplays Potential New Swine Flu Pandemic

The virus is a descendant of the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009.

Industrial-scale hog farms, like beef slaughterhouses, create ideal conditions for disease transmission. (AP file photo/Gerry Broome, File)

BEIJING (AFP) — China on Wednesday played down the threat of a new swine flu strain with pandemic potential that researchers discovered in pigs, saying the study is “not representative.”

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 10.4 million people worldwide and killed more than 511,000, emerged in China last December and is thought to have originated in bats and jumped to humans through an unspecified intermediary animal.

The new swine flu strain found in China, according to the study published Monday in the U.S. science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has “all the essential hallmarks” to infect humans and raised fears of another potential pandemic.

But China’s foreign ministry downplayed those fears on Wednesday.

“The G4 virus mentioned in the relevant report is a subtype of the H1N1 virus,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

“Experts have concluded that the sample size of the report is small and not representative.”

Zhao said that “relevant departments and experts” will step up monitoring of the disease, send warnings and handle it in a timely manner.

The new G4 swine flu strain is genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009, according to the study by scientists at Chinese universities and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

G4 was observed to be highly infectious, they said, replicating in human cells and causing more serious symptoms in ferrets than other viruses.

Researchers took 30,000 nasal swabs from slaughterhouse pigs in 10 Chinese provinces, allowing them to isolate 179 swine flu viruses.

According to the study, 10.4% of pig slaughterhouse workers tested had already been infected.

So far, there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission. China did not elaborate on how many had been infected by G4.

“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, calling for urgent measures to monitor people working with pigs.

© Agence France-Presse

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