World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


WHO Warns Of Ominous Bird Flu Infection In Pigs

UN Health Agency Seeks Details On Potentially Ominous Bird Flu Infection In Pigs

The United Nations health agency is seeking further details from China about the first-ever reported natural infection of pigs with a highly infectious strain of bird flu, a development that could be of particular concern as it would increase opportunities for the emergence of a new human influenza virus with pandemic potential.

The World Health Organization (WHO) request follows the presentation of initial evidence by a researcher from China’s Harbin Veterinary Research Institute that pigs from farms in parts of China have been infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1), the strain that has already killed some two dozen people in Asia this year and resulted in the deaths or culling of more than 100 million birds.

Confirmation of H5N1 infection in pigs would be especially worrying since they have been implicated in the emergence of new influenza viruses responsible for two of the previous century’s influenza pandemics, including the so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-20 which is estimated to have killed some 20 million people worldwide. Pigs are known to be susceptible to infection with avian influenza viruses but natural infection with H5N1 has not been previously reported.

Pigs have receptors in their respiratory tract that make them susceptible to infection with human and avian influenza viruses. If a pig is simultaneously infected with both a human and an avian influenza virus, it can serve as a “mixing vessel,” facilitating the exchange of genetic material between the two viruses in a process known as “reassortment.” The resulting new virus, which will not be recognized by the human immune system, will have pandemic potential if it retains sufficient human genes to allow efficient human-to-human transmission, and if it causes severe disease in humans.

Thus confirmation of such H5N1 infection would add complexity to the disease’s epidemiology but needs to be viewed in perspective, WHO cautioned. During the peak of the H5N1 poultry outbreak in Viet Nam earlier this year, extensive testing of pigs on farms where poultry were heavily infected failed to find evidence of pig infection. Moreover, Hong Kong authorities regularly perform random testing for the virus subtype in pigs imported from mainland China. No such infection has been detected to date.

The latest development comes as a WHO research team is at work in Viet Nam where a fresh bird flu outbreak killed three more people in July and August.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Gordon Campbell: Zimbabwe - Meet The New Bosses

At 75, Mnangagwa is not exactly what you’d call a new broom. As many observers have pointed out, his track record has been one of unswerving dedication to Mugabe ever since the days of anti-colonial insurgency... To these guys, things had to change in Zimbabwe, so that things could remain the same. More>>


Gordon Campbell: Is This Guy The World’s Most Dangerous Thirtysomething?

Saudi Arabia has long been regarded as a pillar of stability in the Middle East, and is the essential caterer to the West’s fossil fuel needs. It is also the country that gave us Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda, and 15 of the 19 terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks... More>>


Non-Binding Postal Vote: Australia Says Yes To Same Sex Marriage

Binoy Kampmark: Out of 150 federal seats, 133 registered affirmative totals in returning their response to the question “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”. More>>


Bonn Climate Change Conference: Protecting Health In Small Island States

The vision is that, by 2030, all Small Island Developing States will have health systems that are resilient to climate change and countries around the world will be reducing their carbon emissions both to protect the most vulnerable from climate risks and deliver large health benefits in carbon-emitting countries. More>>