Chinese researchers warn H1N1 swine flu has 'pandemic threat' potential

Researchers at China's National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory are warning that the family of Eurasian avian-like H1N1 swine viruses have acquired the ability to infect humans and "pose the highest pandemic threat" to mankind.

Chen Hualan

"Pigs are considered important intermediate hosts for flu viruses," Chen Hualan, director of the laboratory and the study's leader, told China's state-owned news service Xinhua. "Based on scientific analysis and comprehensive comparison of the main animal flu viruses: H1N1, H3N2, H5N1, H7N9, H9N2 and EAH1N1, we found the EAH1N1 is the one most likely to cause next human flu pandemic. We should attach great importance to the EAH1N1."

Chen said two lines of the virus have been circulating in pigs, one since 1918 and the other since 1979, and the EAH1N1 viruses have caused several human outbreaks in Europe and in China, where at least one fatality occurred.

Chen's team studied pigs in China and isolated 228 flu viruses from 36,417 pigs in slaughterhouses and on farms in 24 provinces from August 2010 to March 2013, according to the Xinhua report.

The group sequenced the genomes of 40 representative EAH1N1 swine flu viruses from different farms and divided the EAH1N1 into 5 genotypes. They found that all 5 had the ability to infect humans, Xinhua reported.

"Most of the EAH1N1 swine flu viruses can spread efficiently among humans," Chen said in the Xinhua report. "Current human flu vaccines and the preexisting immunity in the human population can't offer enough protection against these viruses."

Chen said that "immediate action" was needed to prevent an outbreak like the one Hollywood portrayed in the film "Contagion" that could wipe out millions of lives.

- here's the story from Xinhua