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Dogs are potential breeding ground for new flu strains, report warns

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: foreign affairs expert, journalist Nicholas Kristof says Moon Jae-In has 'rather brilliantly manipulated' both Trump and North Korea; researchers surprised by the mix of flu strains being carried by dogs in China

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

An owner in China fastens a protective mask on a dog's muzzle to guard against flu virus in this 2009 photo. New research has found that some dogs in China are carrying a potentially potent mix of pig, bird and canine flu viruses. (Reuters)

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  • Dogs in China have been found to be carrying a surprising array of pig, bird and canine flu viruses
  • New York Times op-ed columnist and foreign affairs expert Nicholas Kristof says South Korea's leader has "rather brilliantly manipulated both President Trump and North Korea"
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Sick as a dog

The source of a future global flu pandemic may be snoring at your feet.

New research, published yesterday in the journal mBio, has found that some dogs in China are carrying a potentially potent mix of pig, bird and canine flu viruses that the researchers say might someday jump to humans.

Scientists swabbed the noses of 800 ill dogs in the Guangxi region of southern China between 2013 and 2015, and found that 116 — about 15 per cent — had the flu.

A veterinarian gives a canine influenza immunizations in Los Gatos, Calif., in January. The flu was first diagnosed in canines in the early 2000s, after it apparently jumped to dogs from horses. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
That wasn't such a big surprise — the illness has been spreading in canines worldwide since it was first diagnosed in the early 2000safter it apparently jumped to dogs from horses.

But when the researchers sequenced the DNA of the viruses, they were taken aback to discover that the sick dogs were carrying 16 different strains of flu. Some were bird flu that had also previously infected pigs, and some were pig flus that had been detected in people in Europe and Asia.

Three varieties were brand new combinations of dog and pig flu.

To date, there have been no indications of flu jumping from dogs to their owners. But that doesn't mean that such a transmission out of the question, researchers say.

Piglets are seen on a pig farm near Berlin in January. European farmers have been concerned about African Swine Fever, which originated in Africa and has been spread out over eastern Europe. It is deadly to domestic and wild pigs, but not harmful to humans. (Markus Heine/EPA-EFE)
"This is very reminiscent of what happened in swine 10 years before the H1N1 pandemic," Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City and the paper's principle author, said in a press statement. "The type of combinations of viruses that can [now] be created in dogs represent potential risk for a virus to jump to a dog [and] into a human."

Although Garcia-Sastre notes that humans may already have built up an immunity against canine flu, given all their close contact with dogs.

Of course, fears of a new animal flu are something of an annual tradition.

The killer Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 is thought to have begun in geese. And people now regularly contend with versions of what were originally swine and bird flus that jumped to humans.

Meanwhile, earlier this week Denmark's parliament voted to build a 68 kilometre fence along its southern border with Germany in an effort to keep out wild boars that may or may not be carrying African swine fever, which can be deadly to pigs but not to humans. (Denmark is one of the world's biggest exporters of pork, and its pig business is worth more than $2 billion Cdn annually.)

A poster on the door of a restroom at a highway rest stop near Vetschau, Germany, advises travellers how to prevent the spread of African swine fever. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
The 1.5 metre-tall fence, which will also go half a metre underground to foil burrowing, is projected to cost more than $16 million. And it may prove to be totally useless, since nearby roads will remain barrier-free.

More to the point, it's not clear that the feared virus actually exists in Germany, since the nearest confirmed case to date was in Eastern Poland, some 500 kilometres away.

A perhaps classic case of barking up the wrong tree.

How Moon Jae-In is playing Trump, North Korea

The National's Susan Ormiston spoke to foreign affairs expert, journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof about what to expect from next week's summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

New York Times journalist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof is a world traveller, and has worked as a Times correspondent in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

When New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof was in Pyongyang last September, North Koreans were calling President Trump "that son of a bitch," while Trump was calling Kim Jong Un "little rocket man." But in this season of political pirouettes, the enmities seem to be softening and the two leaders are heading to Singapore for face-to-face talks next week, acting like BFFs (best friends forever).

President Trump says the "maximum pressure" the U.S. has been putting on Kim is now off.

"Why would I do that," he asked reporters rhetorically in Washington last week, referring to steps the U.S. has been taking to punish North Korea, "when we're getting along?"

Kristof marvels at the flip flop, but credits neither of them with peace accolades.

Instead, it's South Korean President Moon Jae-In whom he cites as the real dealmaker.

"Moon Jae-In is a very good Trump handler and he understands the importance of flattery," Kristof told me when we met this week in New York. "I think he rather brilliantly manipulated both President Trump and North Korea to start this peace process."

Kristof, left, tells CBC's Susan Ormiston that South Korean leader Moon Jae-In is a 'very good Trump handler.' (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

Kristof, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, has covered North Korean politics on and off for nearly 30 years. He's optimistic about the June 12 Singapore summit, if only because "talks are better than tanks."

The risk, however, is that the U.S. will come away with little more than "vague commitments over a longer term about [North Korea] actually handing over its warheads" in exchange for lifting economic sanctions, Kristof says.

"I think the U.S. was played by North Korea, and to some extent by South Korea," he adds. "But it's an awful lot better than firing missiles at each other."

Watch Susan Ormiston's interview with Nicholas Kristof on The National tonight on CBC Television and streamed online

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Cannabis beverages the next beer? 

Quote of the moment

"All that comes out of the tap right now is cockroaches."

- Honorine Babalou, a 20-year-old textile worker in Bouake, Ivory Coast, tells AFP what it is like to live through a crippling drought. Officials in the city of 800,000 turned off the taps three months ago and now truck in emergency water rations.

Agents of the National Office of Drinking Water (ONEP) distribute water to the people in a district of Bouake, Ivory Coast, where the main reservoir has been dry for weeks - a shortage officials blame on a drought inflicted by global warming. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • New evacuations near Guatemala volcano set off panic (CBC)
  • Ape and tortoise taken from Ontario zoo may be in Quebec, say police (CBC)
  • Qatar Airways CEO apologizes for saying a woman couldn't fill his shoes (Guardian)
  • Russian oligarch's $500-million yacht at centre of Britain's costliest divorce (NY Times)
  • Indian PM vows to abolish all single-use plastic by 2022 (South China Morning Post)
  • U.S. family warns of hacked baby monitor, experts say devices are vulnerable (NPR)
  • Police abandon sensitivity training program developed by Montreal Indigenous groups (CTV)
  • White House aide who joked about John McCain's illness is out (CBC)

Today in history

June 6, 1944: Crusade for Liberation! Newsreel brings D-Day pictures to Canadians

"The forces of liberty move towards their rendezvous with destiny," this bit of homefront propaganda proclaims. "The citizen-soldiers of yesterday are now a hardened mass of professional killers." And the only regret of the Canadian wounded is that they, "have to leave the fight."

Crusade for Liberation! Newsreel brings D-Day pictures to Canadians

Digital Archives

2 years ago
A Canadian Army Newsreel depicts the D-Day lead-up, the landing and the march for Paris in 1944. 6:30

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.