On August 10, 2010 World Health Organization Director-General Dr Margaret Chan announced that pandemic period of 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu) infection is over. With this news, should the public return their stock of hand sanitizing gel and faux Louis Vuitton printed surgical masks? Although numbers of infections are no longer on the rise, the general public must be aware of the possibility hat we may face another, potentially more virulent, form of 2009 H1N1 infection in the future.
A recent Science magazine article reports an incredible discovery by University of Hong Kong and Shantou University Medical College researchers. A hybrid virus containing genetic material from 2009 H1N1 and other viruses originating from pigs and birds has been isolated from pig herds in China.
In veterinary medicine, there is a prevalent concern regarding the transmission of zoonotic disease (from one species to another), yet the typical worry is for transmission from pets to people (i.e. Ringworm, Toxoplasmosis, etc). Initially, it was not anticipated that last year’s swine flu virus would make the jump from people to pets, yet exactly that happened on a multi-state and international basis.
In 2009 and 2010, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Public Health 2009 H1N1 Flu Virus Outbreak website, there were multiple of cases where humans infected other people, dogs, cats, ferrets, and pigs. Some animals died, most survived, and no humans were infected with 2009 H1N1 by their companion animals.
Pigs are susceptible to infection with human, avian (bird), and swine viruses. Their ability to act as a “viral melting pot” makes pigs a source of potentially deadly viruses that can infect a variety of species. Until the discovery of the hybrid, 2009 H1N1 has not proven to re-assort with viruses in other species besides pigs. The new hybrid creates concern that additional 2009 H1N1 viral combinations may emerge in the future.
With the discovery of the hybrid 2009 H1N1 and other swine viruses, the swine flu pandemic of 2009-10 may be just the beginning of a series infection potentially affecting both people and pets.
Although there have been no reported cases of the new hybrid virus affecting people, there is growing concern that such infection will occur. Additionally, laboratory testing has shown that antibodies produced by 2009 H1N1 infection or the current swine flu vaccination will not provide protection from the hybrid.
What can you do to prevent the spread of viruses and other infectious organisms? Make good sanitary practices a part of your daily routine. Frequently wash your hands with soap and water, especially after visiting public settings. Finally, avoid close contact with other people and pets when you are sick.
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