New flu virus has experts’ attention

A brand new virus diagnosed in at least two Saskatchewan hog farm workers will likely burn out with those cases, but public health authorities need to keep a wary eye on the virus in case it spreads, a leading Canadian infectious disease expert warns.

TORONTO — A brand new virus diagnosed in at least two Saskatchewan hog farm workers will likely burn out with those cases, but public health authorities need to keep a wary eye on the virus in case it spreads, a leading Canadian infectious disease expert warns.

Dr. Frank Plummer, director of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, stressed that the novel virus is not connected to the pandemic H1N1 flu strain that has infected thousands of Canadians and been linked to 38 deaths across the country.

Tests showed two workers at a hog farm in eastern Saskatchewan had been infected with the novel virus last month and a third is suspected to have been sickened by the same agent. All three have fully recovered.

The new flu is a genetic cocktail of seasonal human flu and a long-known animal strain, said Plummer, explaining that an influenza virus that’s been “circulating in pigs for many, many years picked up some new genes from the human H1N1 seasonal flu, nothing to do with this pandemic virus.”

“And it’s created this brand new virus that’s never been seen before.”

Plummer, in Toronto on Wednesday for a meeting of researchers from across Canada to discuss the H1N1 flu pandemic, said no other human cases of the new virus have been reported and “the pigs apparently look pretty well.”

“So we’ve picked up this novel virus. We have to react very aggressively to it. But from what we know now, I think it’s probably going to end with those three cases and everything will be fine.”

While Plummer believes the chance of this new flu virus genetically recombining with the pandemic H1N1 strain is “very, very unlikely,” he cautions that public health officials need to aggressively keep on top of the virus.

“We need to understand the extent of the problem: Is it just these three people or is it more than that? Is it just this one pig herd or is it more than that?”

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