Roughly half a million Chinese living in Hebei Province (not Hubei, Hebei), a province in northern China that surrounds Beijing (which operates as an independent ‘national city’) are under lockdown, but in an effort to try to convey just how prepared Chinese public health officials are for another outbreak (keep in mind, the WHO’s “independent” delegation of investigators is expected to arrive in China next week) they’ve warned every English-language media outlet that will listen that officials have identified another potentially pandemic-quality flu pathogen.
According to the BBC, Chinese scientists have identified a new strain of flu that has “the potential to become a pandemic”. It emerged recently in China’s already-dwindling pig population, but scientists say it can infect humans, which would make it similar to the H1N1 virus that spread across Asia and made it all the way to North America in a short-lived pandemic.
Among other factors, scientists have credited the natural human immunity to flu viruses, built up in elderly people over decades, for stopping H1N1 from becoming the global pandemic that many scientists feared. In fact, the extremely dire warnings about that virus, which never came to pass, partially contributed – one could argue – to the complacent attitude in the US toward viruses spreading from China.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, China is only just starting to recover from a devastating outbreak of “pig ebola” – a particularly deadly strain of swine flu – that wiped out ~1/3rd of China’s pig population.
The team of scientists published their findings in a medical journal where they could be sure that science and health-care reporters would find it.