Virologist calls for vigilance against swine flu from China

G4, a new strain of swine flu discovered in China, is reportedly highly infectious. (Reuters pic)

PETALING JAYA: A virologist has called for close tabs on a new strain of swine flu discovered in China, saying it has the potential to cause a pandemic.

Dr Lam Sai Kit of Universiti Malaya’s Academy of Sciences and Research said it was important to keep an eye on developments in pig farms in China although there has so far been no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

“There is always a chance of the virus mutating and later spreading among humans,” he told FMT.

Researchers in China have reported that the strain, named G4, was highly infectious and that any immunity humans had gained from exposure to seasonal flu did not protect them from it.

Lam noted that the virus, “a descendant of the 2009 swine flu”, had been shown to grow and replicate in human cells and that blood tests on 338 people who work with swine showed that 10.4% had antibodies against it, meaning they had been infected.

However, the evidence so far did not indicate the likelihood of a pandemic, he added.

Former health director general Dr Mohd Ismail Merican agreed, but he said pigs would need to be “given special attention” once the World Health Organization confirms that the flu is indeed carried by swine.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, who heads the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, voiced confidence that Malaysia would be prepared to manage another pandemic.

He said the country’s public health system had learnt from its experience with several outbreaks before Covid-19, including SARS, Nipah, H1N1, MERS and even H5N1.

He pointed out that Malaysia’s preparedness had been recognised by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Health Security Index even before the Covid-19 outbreak.

The president of the Malaysian Medical Association, Dr N Ganabaskaran, told FMT he believed the world had become more vigilant against possible pandemics since Covid-19 and would keep an eye on G4.

“We believe the health ministry is already keeping a close watch on this,” he said. “We are confident any eventuality can be managed as well as we have done for Covid-19.”

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