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expert reaction to identification of an influenza virus in pigs in China with the potential for pandemic spread in humans

A study, published in PNAS, reports the identification of an influenza virus in pigs in China with the potential for pandemic spread in humans.


Prof Diana Bell, University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences, said:

“These are very important findings published by Chinese scientists and highlight the need for continued horizon scanning for other zoonotic pathogens during a global pandemic caused by another.

“Pig rearing occurs on a massive scale in China, as does poultry farming which resulted in H5N1 immediately after SARS.

“This paper indicates that close monitoring of both pigs and farm workers in close contact with them is in place which is essential to containment of risks associated with this novel flu virus.”


Prof James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, said:

“Pig farming is a massive industry in China and pigs can be important hosts from which novel influenza viruses may emerge. The authors have conducted a thorough investigation into the risks of newly emerging swine flu viruses in China and show that there is evidence that these may pose a risk to human health, in particular that they can replicate in human cells and may already be infecting some pig farmers in China. Current vaccines may not protect adequately against them.

“The work comes as a salutary reminder that we are constantly at risk of new emergence of zoonotic pathogens and that farmed animals, with which humans have greater contact than with wildlife, may act as the source for important pandemic viruses.”


Dr Alice Hughes, Associate Professor, Centre for Integrative Conservation, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said:

“Swine and avian flus are not uncommon in Asia, and we hear periodic reports of them (thankfully largely limited to livestock – in China there is sensitivity on this, so there is screening).

“Hygiene standards, and feeds including hormones and steroids across Asia are likely to be contributory factors to compromised immune systems and the potential of viruses to spread. Pork and poultry are also very popular across Asia, so there are huge numbers of the animals in the region – in fact, current statistics show over half the world’s pig population is in China”



Prevalent Eurasian avian-like H1N1 swine influenza virus with 2009 pandemic viral genes facilitating human infection’ by Honglei Sun et al. was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) at 20:00 UK time on Monday 29th June 2020.


DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1921186117


Declared interests

None received.

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