National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci told Congress “we need to keep our eye” on an emerging strain of swine flu with possible pandemic potential.
A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported on a strain called G4 that is increasingly infecting pigs in China and carries lineage from European and Asian bird flu, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic strain, and North American H1N1 that includes genes from swine, avian and human flu viruses.
The paper said the H1N1 inclusion may promote G4’s adaptation into a virus that spreads between humans. Two cases have been documented of G4 spreading from pigs to humans, but the humans didn’t transmit it to other humans. Researchers encouraged development of a vaccine to the strain.
Fauci told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee at a Tuesday hearing on coronavirus response that “the Chinese over the last week or two have identified a virus in the environment; it is not yet shown to be infecting humans, but it is exhibiting what we call reassortment capabilities.”
“In other words, when you get a brand-new virus that turns out to be a pandemic virus that is either due to mutations and/or the reassortment or exchanges of genes, and they are seeing virus in swine, intakes 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 host like swine,” he said. “When they all mixed up together and they contain some of the elements that might make them susceptible to being transmitted to humans you always have the possibility that you might have another swine flu-type outbreak as we had in 2009.”
“It is something that is still in the stage of examination, it is not so-called ‘an immediate threat’ where you are seeing infections, but it is something that we need to keep our eye on just the way that we did in 2009 with the emergence of the swine flu,” Fauci added.
With more than 126,000 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 and surges of infections in many states, Fauci said he couldn’t make an accurate prediction on the future death toll and number of infections but “it is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that.”
“When you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they are doing well, they are vulnerable,” he said. “…We can’t just focus on those areas that are having a surge; it puts the entire country at risk. We are now having 40,000-plus new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around, and so I am very concerned.”
“I would really be hesitant to give a number that will come back and either be contradicted, overblown or underblown, but I think it’s important to tell you and the American public that I’m very concerned because it could get very bad,” Fauci told lawmakers.