New Virus Reported In China Highlights Risk Of Animal-Borne Pandemic Originating In...

New Virus Reported In China Highlights Risk Of Animal-Borne Pandemic Originating In Factory Farms

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“We are constantly at risk of new emergence of zoonotic
pathogens and that farmed animals, with which humans have
greater contact than with wildlife, may act as the source
for important pandemic viruses.”

by Julia
Conley, staff writer

A
masked worker checks the pigs in a hog pen in Suining in
southwest China’s Sichuan province on Feb. 21, 2020. All
workers have to pass five rounds of disinfection and three
days of quarantine before being allowed to enter the pig
farm as a precaution against swine flu, or H1N1. (Photo:
Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty
Images)

A study released Monday
identified a new strain of the H1N1 influenza virus in
China, reinforcing
warnings
from public health experts regarding humans’
close contact with animals under the factory farming and
illegal animal trade systems which currently exist around
the world.

Scientists at universities in China and at
the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention
call the virus G4
and say it’s descended from the H1N1
virus which caused a pandemic in 2009.

The virus has
been a dominant strain of influenza among pigs since
2016.

The disease has infected more than one in 10 pig
farm workers according
to
the study, published in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
, while 4.4% of 230
people surveyed in the general population across 10 Chinese
provinces had also contracted the
virus.

“We need to be vigilant about other
infectious disease threats even as Covid is going on because
viruses have no interest in whether we’re already having
another pandemic.”
—Martha Nelson, National Institutes
of Health

“The work comes as a salutary
reminder that we are constantly at risk of new emergence of
zoonotic pathogens and that farmed animals, with which
humans have greater contact than with wildlife, may act as
the source for important pandemic viruses,” Professor James
Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the
University of Cambridge, said in a statement.

As
Common Dreams reported
in March, the global coronavirus outbreak has led
environmental experts to warn that humans must prioritize
efforts to contain habitat destruction and the exploitation
of animals to avoid another pandemic. The first human
infections in the pandemic were
linked
to a live animal market, or wet market, in Wuhan,
China.

“Never before have so many opportunities
existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals
to people,” U.N. Environmental Program director Inger
Andersen said in March, referring to illegal animal trades
in live markets, industrialized farming in which antibiotics
are heavily used, and extractive industries which destroy
wildlife habitats.

In 2009, the H1N1 virus first
circulated
among humans in the U.S. after spreading in
pig farms like the ones studied in China. The virus killed
as many as 575,000 people worldwide.

“We have
abundant evidence documenting the fact that when you put
animals in crowded, unsanitary conditions and use low-dose
antibiotics for disease prevention, you set up a perfect
incubator for spontaneous mutations in the DNA of the
bacteria,” Robert Lawrence, a professor emeritus of
environmental health at John Hopkins University, told
Vox in April. “With more spontaneous mutations, the
odds increase that one of those mutations will provide
resistance to the antibiotic that’s present in the
environment… That’s the biggest human health risk of
factory farms.”

Scientists say there is currently no
evidence of human-to-human transmission, but the researchers
wrote that G4 has “all the essential hallmarks of being
highly adapted to infect humans” and has already jumped from
animals to humans.

Existing vaccines for the seasonal
flu were not effective at providing immunity to G4 in the
study, which the World Health Organization is currently
reviewing. Martha Nelson, an evolutionary biologist at the
U.S. National Institutes of Health, told
Science magazine that scientists should prepare now
for the disease to potentially affect a large number of
humans around the world, by adapting existing flu
vaccines.

“We need to be vigilant about other
infectious disease threats even as Covid is going on because
viruses have no interest in whether we’re already having
another pandemic,” Nelson said.

Public health expert
Carl Bergstrom noted
on social media that the G4 virus is “worth watching” for
epidemiologists but that unlike Covid-19, it poses “no
immediate threat to public health.”

“We
should not focus on any one virus exclusively,” Dr. Angela
Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, added.
“We should prepare for ANY kind of emerging influenza
pandemic.”

© Scoop Media

 





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