Researchers at Kansas State University are continuing a six-year project to monitor for the next strain of the influenza virus.
The team begins by studying a herd of pigs in a field for signs of swine influenza viruses. The team collects and analyzes samples from influenza-affected swine to see if there are any strains that can harm humans.
The project is part of a $1 million National Institutes of Health grant.
"Swine influenza are constantly changing," Juergen Richt, Regents distinguished professor of veterinary medicine and director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animals Diseases, said. "There's a constant mutational rate, and sometimes they're changing very rapidly using a mechanism called reassortment -- gene segments from one influenza virus are mixed with gene segments from a different influenza virus. We are very concerned about these genes coming together to create new surface proteins that have not been seen in the human population."
The last novel influenza subtype was found in Missouri. It was a new strain of H2N3, a combination of the swine flu virus and a duck flu virus that could have been harmful to humans.
"Swine influenza viruses infect swine and cause a respiratory disease in pigs, but they sometimes have the ability to transmit from pigs to humans," Richt said. "We hope that we are early enough in discovering these novel swine influenza viruses so that we can isolate and characterize these viruses and alert the respective authorities to control and eradicate them as soon as possible."