Don’t kiss the pig, baby! Despite its name, a deadly strain of Swine Flu is spreading quickly between humans, not pigs. So far, it has claimed 81 lives in Mexico and is spreading to UK.
You may think, it’s just similar to the avian flu that threatens us every summer, yet to a lot of virologists, the news of a human pandemic strain is an alarm of a step nearer to a pandemic with the potential to kill millions.
I am not an expert in this area, but I have learnt something from my days working with doctors and pathologists – pigs have cells in their trachea that allow for both avian and human flu infections.
So imagine the pig as a mixer (I suddenly think of the Spider Pig in Simpsons Movie, well…), they can get three kinds of flu: swine, bird (avian) and human. (No wonder sometimes they look so miserable…) And inside the pig host reassortment can happen to blend out a new set of viral genes.
The blended virus may not be able to infect humans, but if it can, it would carry new virulence thanks to the non-human genes. Also the new strain may infect other parts of the body apart from the respiratory tract, and it was what happened during the 1918 epidemic.
So now you may be looking at your delicious pork steak and hesitate: Should I? No worries, pork is safe, there is no concern of catching influenza from the pork. It is an air-borne virus, so you can continue your big feast, for now…