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UC San Diego concerned about potentially dangerous new flu spreading in China

Nurses from the Bristol-Burlington Health District collects a patient's nasal swab at Bristol Hospital's drive-through coronavirus specimen collection station. The station has collected over 120 samples on previous days but, due to a scarcity of specimen collection kits, the hospital collects 40 tests a day. (Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant/TNS)

A UC San Diego researcher expressed concern Wednesday about a new swine flu virus that has jumped from pigs to humans in China, where it is spreading quickly and might have the potential to produce a pandemic.

The new virus is a strain of the H1N1 swine flu that erupted in 2009 and killed 285,000 people around the world. The earlier virus was first reported and described by scientists at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego.

This latest version, known as G4, “is really something we need to pay attention to,” said Pascal Gagneux, a UCSD evolutionary biologist who specializes in influenza.

“It has gone from pigs to humans and seems poised to go from humans to humans. The scary part is that Chinese scientists say that it could target middle-age people with strong, healthy immune systems.”

Chinese researchers reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week that the virus appears to have jumped from animals to humans on pig farms in that country. The early reports say that the infections have not caused major illness.

But the scientists said G4 could spread further, and they said it has to quickly be brought under control to prevent it from becoming a pandemic.

Ian Wilson, a virus expert at Scripps Research in La Jolla, also is concerned, saying on Wednesday, “This flu really needs to be under surveillance. So far, there is no evidence of human to human transmission. But it is possible that it could happen.”


© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune