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UCSD researcher raises concern about potentially ‘scary’ new swine flu virus spreading in China

A microscope image of the swine flu virus from 2009.
( File)

The flu is a strain of the virus that killed 285,000 people globally in 2009.

A UC San Diego researcher expressed concern about a new swine flu virus that has jumped from pigs to humans in China, where it is spreading quickly and might have the potential to produce a pandemic.

The new virus is a strain of the H1N1 swine flu that erupted in 2009 and killed 285,000 people around the world. The earlier virus was first reported and described by scientists at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego.

The latest version, known as G4, “is really something we need to pay attention to,” said Pascal Gagneux, a UCSD evolutionary biologist who specializes in influenza.

“It has gone from pigs to humans and seems poised to go from humans to humans,” he said July 1. “The scary part is that Chinese scientists say that it could target middle-age people with strong, healthy immune systems.”

Chinese researchers reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week that the virus appears to have jumped from animals to humans on pig farms in that country. The early reports say the infections have not caused major illness.

But the scientists said G4 could spread further, and they said it has to be brought under control quickly to prevent it from becoming a pandemic.

Ian Wilson, a virus expert at Scripps Research in La Jolla, said he also is concerned: “This flu really needs to be under surveillance. So far, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission. But it is possible that it could happen.” ◆