Researchers determine swine flu strains could mutate and infect humans

Scientists published research on Monday that found that a pig-isolated flu strain spread among ferrets, a mammal with human-like responses to flu, and killed them with ease.

While the particular virus is not a threat to human health because it is similar to the 2009 H1N1 swine flu, the researchers said the study findings show a need for vigilant surveillance. The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by scientists from South Korea and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., the Los Angeles Times reports.

"This is not a 'We're all going to die' type of virus," Richard Webby said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "It's more that we need to be vigilant and maintain surveillance of influenza in pigs."

The researchers determined that the virus mutated twice when it spread from pigs to ferrets allowing for easier transmissibility and serious illness. The researchers do not know for sure that the virus would infect people and hope that some day they will be able to predict the properties of a virus just by looking at the genetic code, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"We're not very good at that now," Webby said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We can't just look at the sequence and say, 'Well, that's something we should be worried about.'"

Nancy J. Cox, the director of the influenza division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the current data on swine flu viruses is scant.

"If you try to find sequences of influenza viruses isolated from pigs you'll find coverage is very spotty," Cox said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "What we're worried about is not so much this particular virus. It's all of those other viruses that may be in swine populations in other parts of the world."