At a meeting of flu experts sponsored by the Institute of Medicine, expert Michael Worobey, who specializes in tracking viruses on the “molecular clock” said that the new pandemic H1N1 flu has been hiding in pigs for a decade before it jumped into the human species. Molecular tests show that this virus made a “mutational Jump” into humans only recently as humans continued to interact with pigs. He also believed that it continued to circulate undetected in humans once it made the jump for a few more months; thus, he says, there is an obligation to improve surveillance of swine flu in pigs and humans. The goal of this meeting, called by the Institute of Medicine, was to examine the pandemic and look for better ways to be prepared and deal with the next one, not that one is coming for sure but viruses ARE everywhere just waiting for when the time is right.
Worobey said that if doctors tested patients for influenza, we could have caught this virus a month or two before we did. It is therefore hard to determine when and where it first jumped into the human species because by the time we found it, it had been circulating in Mexico and the US for months.
The new strain has bird-like genetic sequences and is believed to have jumped from birds to pigs a long time ago. Apparently, once it jumped into humans, its genes changed quickly, evolving at a 1.5x faster rate than it evolved in swine. And to the relief of doctors and healthcare workers preparing for the global vaccination campaign, the currently circulating virus is not mutating but experts believe it will eventually begin to. What’s next??