20 July 2020

Pigs: Mixing pots for influenza

Posted by Shane Hanlon

This is part of a student blog series as part of the University of Pittsburgh’s Disease Ecology Class that our own Shane M Hanlon is currently teaching. Find out more about the series and read all the posts here!   

By Owen Takac

Pigs eating potatoes in Great Livermere, Suffolk. Credit: Wikipedia

I was recently reading an article on Healthline.com that discussed a new form of swine flu that was recently discovered in China.  The new strain is called G4, and it has come to researcher’s attention after being discovered in Chinese pigs.  There was a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that presents the findings of a virus surveillance of China’s pigs between 2011 and 2018.  The findings of the study were shocking, presenting evidence that shows that this G4 virus has the potential to start a pandemic.  While it is not currently able spread among humans, it can infect humans, and the researchers responsible for the study of interest believe that it could possibly evolve these abilities.  They advise that we prepare for the worst because transmission is highly variable between pigs and humans, bats and bats, and pigs and bats, which means that it will be hard to determine where and when mutation can occur. 

The largest concern, when it comes to a possible human pandemic, is that humans may not have the same level of defenses to this form of the flu as they do to past forms, as we have never encountered it before.  This is a major issue because if the body cannot clear or limit the infection, viruses will spread very fast.  Due to this, scientists have already began working towards a solution to this virus.  Individuals who have been in contact with G4 infected pigs are under close surveillance, and they have been vaccinated to prevent recombination with other forms of the flu. 

Source: New Swine Flu Discovered in China: Why You Don’t Need to Worry Too Much Yet