Story at a glance

  • The study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences focuses on an influenza found in Chinese pigs called G4 EA H1N1.
  • The study claims the virus replicates efficiently in human airways and has infected some workers who handled the pigs without causing disease.
  • Fauci said the virus is not an immediate threat where infections are occurring, but said it’s something we “need to keep our eye on.”

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the U.S. needs to keep its eye on a strain of swine flu emerging in China, but said it’s not an immediate threat. 

During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing Tuesday, Fauci was asked about G4 EA H1N1, a strain of swine flu that has been common on China’s pig farms since 2016. A study published Monday claimed the virus replicates efficiently in human airways and has infected some workers who handled the pigs without causing disease

Fauci said, however, the virus has not yet been shown to be infecting humans, but is exhibiting “reassortment capabilities.”

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“In other words, when you get a brand new virus that turns out to be a pandemic virus it’s either due to mutations and/or the reassortment or exchange of genes,” Fauci told lawmakers. “And they’re seeing virus in swine, in pigs now, that have characteristics of the 2009 H1N1, of the original 1918, which many of our flu viruses have remnants of that in it, as well as segments from other hosts like swine.”

Researchers behind the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said the virus has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” and warned it should be closely monitored. 

Fauci said there’s always the possibility of another swine flu type outbreak similar to 2009. 

“It’s something that still is in the stage of examination,” he said, adding it’s not an “immediate threat where you’re seeing infections, but it’s something we need to keep our eye on, just the way we did in 2009 with the emergence of the swine flu.” 

Fauci’s comments on the virus come as the U.S. is continuing to struggle with the coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 2.6 million people and left more than 127,000 dead across the country. 

Worldwide, the coronavirus has infected more than 10.3 million with more than 500,000 deaths.

Published on Jun 30, 2020