Strains in Korean pigs potentially transmissible to humans
Just a few genetic tweaks could turn an influenza virus found in pigs into the next pandemic threat in people.
At least one virus isolated from pigs in Korea may already have potential to cause disease in people, researchers report online September 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The virus caused severe flu in ferrets, a favored proxy for humans in flu research, and grew in human lung tissue in the lab.
“That makes it a bit scary,” says study coauthor Robert Webster, a virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. So far, the virus has not been found in people, but “if it is in the pig, beware,” he says.
Pigs are known to be genetic mixing vessels where influenza viruses from birds, humans and pigs swap genes. The resulting viruses, called triple reassortants, are a concern because adaptations arising in pigs may help the viruses spread in humans. A triple reassortant virus