U.S. is Not Well Prepared for Flu Pandemic: Man infects Pigs with H1N1 Swine Flu

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UCLA Scientists studying the H1N1 swine flu virus have discovered the first evidence of animal infection between man and pigs in Central Africa and believe that such transmission can lead to a new pandemic of the H1N1 swine flu.

The H1N1 swine flu virus is a genetic hybrid of DNA from bird, swine and the human influenza viruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the swine flu virus is responsible for a pandemic in 2009 which infected an estimated 60 million people resulting in 270,000 hospitalizations and 12,500 deaths.

In a recent study published in the scientific journal Veterinary Microbiology, scientists from UCLA traveled to Cameroon to determine whether the H1N1 virus was present in African livestock. The researchers collected nasal swabs and blood samples from randomly selected domestic pigs in outlying villages and farms. What they found were two cases of active H1N1 virus infection from the nasal samples. The blood samples, however, showed that 28% of the pigs tested positive for past infection of the virus, and of that 28% almost all demonstrated that their infection was due to the H1N1 influenza virus isolated from humans during the 2009 pandemic. Although theH1N1 virus has been detected in livestock in other countries, this was the first evidence of it in Africa and showing that contamination was from man to pig.

According to a press release from the University of California the authors of the paper were surprised by the results. "I was amazed that virtually every pig in this village was exposed," said Thomas B. Smith, director of UCLA's Center for Tropical Research and the senior author of the research. "Africa is ground zero for a new pandemic. Many people are in poor health there, and disease can spread very rapidly without authorities knowing about it."

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"The pigs were running wild in that area," said lead author Kevin Njabo, a researcher in UCLA's department of ecology and evolutionary biology and associate director of the Center for Tropical Research. "I was shocked when we found out it was H1N1. Any virus in any part of the world can reach another continent within days by air travel. We need to understand where viruses originate and how they spread, so we can destroy a deadly virus before it spreads. We have to be prepared for a pandemic, but so many countries are not well-prepared - not even the United States."

According to Njabo, the importance of their findings is that it shows how that farming practices can lead to a viral outbreak. "The pigs got H1N1 from humans," Njabo said. "The fact that pigs in Africa are infected with the H1N1 flu virus illustrates the remarkable interconnectedness of the modern world with respect to diseases. The H1N1 virus that we found in livestock in Cameroon is virtually identical to a virus found in people in San Diego just a year earlier, providing an astonishing example of how quickly the flu can spread all over the globe.”

The authors of the paper have also collected hundreds of sample from chickens, ducks and wild birds for additional studies to determine the interaction of viruses and infections between humans and both wild and domestic animals.

"The world is a global village; no area is truly isolated," said Njabo, who was born and raised in Cameroon. "There are so many unknowns about the transmission rates of viruses between humans and wild animals. We have to expand screening."

Sources:
Press Release: UCLA scientists find H1N1 flu virus prevalent in animals in Africa http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/ucla-life-scientists-find-h1n1-215707.aspx

Pandemic A/H1N1/2009 influenza virus in Swine, Cameroon, 2010, Veterinary Microbiology, Available online 12 September 2011, ISSN 0378-1135, 10.1016/j.vetmic.2011.09.003.
(http://www.rupisciencedirect.cjb.net/science/article/pii/S0378113511004974)

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