Is there another possible pandemic lurking around the corner? Public health officials are concerned that the world might have to deal with another serious health threat on top of COVID-19.
A Possible Pandemic of Influenza from Pigs:
Researchers report that a new swine flu circulating in China has made the leap to humans. It is called G4 EA H1N1, or G4 for short.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that roughly 10% of the swine workers who were tested came up positive for G4 (PNAS, June 29, 2020). So far, though, this influenza virus has not been jumping from human to human. That would be a necessary step before it becomes a possible pandemic.
Nevertheless, the authors state that this flu strain
“…possesses all of the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.” They continue, “It is of concern that human infection of G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a human pandemic.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people may have forgotten that there was an influenza pandemic in 2009. That H1N1 virus also came from pigs; G4 seems to be descended from that strain. In the year between 2009 and 2010, around 61 million Americans came down with influenza and more than 12,000 died. While those figures are dwarfed by COVID-19, strained healthcare systems would be hard-pressed to battle two deadly infections at once.
What can be done to keep G4 from spreading throughout the human population? Epidemiologists are keeping an eye on the possibility of human-to-human transmission among pig farmers and their families. If it looks like it is poised to spread, some of the same measures used against COVID-19 will be helpful to prevent this possible pandemic: physical distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks and washing hands.