Is Swine Flu Going To Be The Next Pandemic?

Is swine flu going to be the next pandemic?

The world has been worried about pandemic diseases for many years. Before COVID-19, attention was focused on influenza viruses as the most likely cause. A recent paper reminds us that the threat from flu remains very real. It reports that a swine flu virus is circulating in China that has the potential for pandemic spread in humans. This sounds highly alarming, but just how worried should we be?

There are millions of cases of flu each year, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. These are caused by “seasonal” or type B influenza viruses. There are also other types of flu viruses that are harboured by animals, notably the type A viruses of birds. Thankfully, most of these infect humans poorly. But as they are different from the seasonal viruses, humans have no or little existing immunity to them.

So a type A virus that acquires the ability to readily infect humans and transmit between us will rip through our population, leading to a pandemic in much the same way that SARS-CoV-2 has done. The Spanish flu of 1918, which caused an estimated 50 million deaths, demonstrates why pandemic influenza viruses have been the focus of the World Health Organization and governments around the world.

How type A viruses can infect humans

Influenza viruses infect respiratory cells by binding to a specific receptor on the cells’ surface. Humans and birds have different versions of this receptor, which means avian flu viruses bind poorly to human cells. This is why infectivity in humans is low.

However, flu viruses can readily exchange segments of their genetic material (in a process known as reassortment) if two different viruses infect the same cell. This can create novel flu viruses with combined characteristics of their parents. It’s feared that a re-assorted virus could combine the great harmfulness of some bird viruses with high infectivity for humans – a potentially devastating combination.

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Andrew Preston, Reader in Biology and Biochemistry, more

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Anastasija Janevska 4 weeks ago Member's comment

I think it really comes down to what value you put on a human life. For some, to save lives, a temporary shut down of the economy is a worthwhile trade off. But I think you are very misleading to say "miniscule loss of life." Over half a million people have died already and with no end in site? You don't think that's a lot of people?

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Anastasija Janevska 4 weeks ago Member's comment

I agree we don't yet know the full impact. And this affect on the economy is horrible. But many countries have already been able to reopen because they took the measures necessary to beat COVID-19 back. The US did not.

50 million people may die each year (I don't know the stats), but are they as easily preventable as COVID-19? People need to wear a damn mask!

Angry Old Lady 4 weeks ago Member's comment

For some like #Trump, I suspect even a single dollar is worth more than a few lives he doesn't personally know. And that's part of the problem. The only feather he had in his cap was the growing economy, and he'd likely let half of America die of #COVID19 if he can hold on to that.

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Frank Underwood 3 weeks ago Member's comment

Interesting, where are you now?