Hybrid pandemic flu virus found in Chinese pigs

Chinese researchers have announced that a hybrid virus that has been found in pigs in Hong Kong contains elements of the 2009 human pandemic flu virus as well as two swine flu strains.

The new hybrid virus, CIDRAP News reports, shows that there is a greater need for surveillance of flu viruses in pigs.

The Chinese researchers, in an article in the journal Science, said that the 2009 human pandemic flu virus, which originated from pigs, has shown itself capable of returning to pigs and trading genes with different flu viruses. This gene trading raises the risk of creating more virulent strains as pigs are regarded as mixing vessels for flu viruses as they are susceptible to human, avian and swine strains of influenza.

"The 2009 pandemic [virus], although mild and apparently contained at present, could undergo further reassortment in swine and gain virulence," researches from Honk Kong University and Shantou University Medical College in China wrote, CIDRAP News reports.

The hybrid virus was first seen at the beginning of January during routine surveillance of pigs at a Hong Kong slaughterhouse. The hybrid contains a neuraminidase gene derive from the 2009 pandemic virus, six internal genes from the triple-reassortant H1N2 swine flu group and a hemagglutinin gene from a European lineage of "avian-like" swine flu viruses, CIDRAP News reports.

To date, the hybrid virus has not been found in humans.