More Bad News From China: First Covid-19, Now Plague And Flu

China Does It Again: First Covid-19, Now Plague And Flu

After the coronavirus pandemic that shook the world this year, China is being seen as a potential epicentre for Bubonic Plague after a herder got infected with it and the onset of a new Swine Flu virus strain. Time to know more about the current situation there and what virologists and authorities have to say about this.

Crux of the Matter

Bubonic Plague In Mongolia
A bubonic plague case was discovered in Bayannur, Inner Mongolia on July 4. Local Chinese authorities have issued a citywide Level 3 warning for plague prevention, the second-lowest in a four-level system.

A bubonic plague smear taken from the patient, Source: Getty Images

The warning will stay enforced until the end of the year as experts have urged people to take extra precautions like avoiding hunting or eating animals like sick marmots or large ground squirrels, that could cause infection.

Why Is It So Scary?
Plague is caused by bacteria and transmitted via flea bites and infected animals. Bubonic plague, which is one of the plague’s most alarming three forms as it causes painful, swollen lymph nodes, along with symptoms like fever, chills, and coughing.

The grotesque scene outside almost all homes during the Black Death, Source: History

It is said to be one of the deadliest bacterial infections in human history as it can kill an adult in less than 24 hours if not treated in time. During the dreaded ‘Black Death‘ period in the Middle Ages, it killed up to 200 million people in Eurasia & North Africa, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.

Another ‘Pandemic Potential’ Flu?
Researchers in China have discovered new flu that’s a mix of human H1N1 flu, responsible for causing the Swine Flu due to pigs and avian-based flu, caused by birds.

The H1N1 strain that causes Swine Flu, Source: Wikipedia

Even though there has been a range of worrisome headlines, there has been no case of human-to-human transmission of this particular strain of the virus. In fact it’s great that the strain was detected early, giving virologists time to study it more by developing new tests.

What Can Go Wrong Then?
Virologists did find evidence that the new virus could spread by aerosol droplets from ferret to ferret i.e surrogates for humans in flu studies. Infected ferrets lost weight and acquired lung damage, just like those who became sick due to the seasonal human H1N1 flu strains.

Infectious disease scholars call the strain a PPP, a potential pandemic pathogen only because of its ‘availability‘ in the environment since it’s first recognition in the 1900s and its ability to circulate from pigs to humans.

But What Is Swine Flu?
H1N1 virus or pig influenza, swine flu is a human respiratory infection caused by an influenza strain (G4) that started in pigs. Since it’s reception in 1919, it circulates as a seasonal flu virus and has killed 284,000+ people worldwide. However, both the vaccine, developed by Pandemrix and Celvapan and medicine, oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza), are available for the treatment of swine flu.

Better Prepared This Time?
The reason for an improved influenza virus surveillance system is how from 2011 to 2018, the researchers had found G4 EA H1N1 strain in pigs. The animal-to-human transmission could later do human to human transmission as well, which became the majority strain for the swine flu virus in China in 2018.

In the meantime, WHO is keeping close tabs on these new developments and highlighting the importance of comprehensive health policies on a global level.

  • An outbreak of swine flu among Chinese pig farms in 2019 boosted the price of pork by more than 50% compared to 2018. As a result, chinese pig farmer and billionaire Qin Yinglin had a net worth jump of 340% in 2019.
  • Pandemrix is an influenza vaccine for influenza pandemics, such as the 2009 flu pandemic. The vaccine was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and patented in September 2006. The vaccine is only approved for use when an H1N1 influenza pandemic has been officially declared by the World Health Organization.
  • The initial outbreak of a novel swine-origin H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 and the virus strain that caused it was called by many names. In July 2009, WHO experts named the virus “pandemic H1N1/09 virus” to distinguish it from both various seasonal H1N1 virus strains and the 1918 flu pandemic H1N1 strain.