In a coffee shop tucked in a small corner of the galaxy, the writers for Earth: Season 2020 gathered for a conference to discuss the plot points for the ongoing season.
We are approaching July after all.
Writer 2: And our ongoing plot point, the pandemic.
Writer 1: Yeah. So what next? How about Tsunamis? The last time we had a major one was… let’s see, 2018. Seems about time for one.
Writer 3: No, wait. How about this: yet another pandemic?
Writer 2: What? You really think people are going to buy that? Yet another one even though they should have learnt their lesson?
Writer 3: Nono, but hear me out.
New Swine Flu, Genetically Descended From H1N1
The title of the study is scary by itself: “Prevalent Eurasian avian-like H1N1 swine influenza virus with 2009 pandemic viral genes facilitating human infection”.
Researchers of the study took 30,000 nasal swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses in 10 Chinese provinces and isolated 179 swine flu viruses.
165 of these 179 were said to be Eurasian Avian-like Influenza A (EA H1N1), which means that EA H1N1 is the dominant virus circulating in pig populations. Analysing the virus genetic makeup, genotype 4 (G4) is dominant.
G4 EA H1N1, the swine flu the study identifies, is genetically descended from the H1N1 strain. Yes, that one that caused a pandemic in 2009.
Researcher Carried Out Experiments With Ferrets And Human Cells
Ferrets are commonly used in flu studies because they show similar symptoms to humans, like fever, coughing and sneezing.
Experiments showed G4 to be highly infectious in ferrets, causing serious symptoms, and can also replicate efficiently in humans cells.
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Immunity humans get from exposure to seasonal flu does not seem to provide protection from G4.
10.4% Of Pig Farm Workers Infected
To date, there were only five cases of illness linked to this type of virus. Two patients infected with the virus had neighbours who reared pigs, which meant that the G4 EA H1N1 can transmit from pig to human.
Researchers also then surveyed 338 pig farm workers and found that 35, or 10.4% of them were positive for the G4 EA H1N1 virus.
For those in the 18 to 35 years old range, 9 out of 44 or 20.5% tested positive.
In fact, 4.4% of the general population might have been exposed. And by this, I mean 4.4% out of a 230 sample of people from households tested positive.
Writer 2: Sigh, I don’t know. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but you really need to tone all these down, man.
Writer 1: Yeah, and China yet again? People won’t buy this man.
Writer 3: Fine!
But No Evidence Of Human To Human Transmission Yet
Melinda Rostal, a veterinarian epidemiologist and zoonotic disease expert at EcoHealth Alliance, speaking to Inverse, said: “Right now there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission so we don’t have another human epidemic on our hands.”
“But they have provided strong evidence through their transmission studies in human cells and ferrets that suggest if the human-to-human transmission does start to occur easily we could be facing another large epidemic.”
“We need to be aware of this risk so that we can start taking measures to prevent spillover now, while it is still in pigs.”
Rostal was not involved in the study.
The authors of the study published in PNAS worries and warns about the possibility of human-to-human infection.
“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.
Writer 1: Okay, that seems more reasonable. Now we can use this as foreshadowing for…
Writer 3: August.
Writer 1: What? No! 2021 dude! 2020 is already packed full of disasters. What do you even have against humans?
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