UCLA researchers have made an intriguing discovery. They've found swine flu in North African pigs. They stumbled upon the H1N1 virus while studying swine in Cameroon.
The scientists think the pigs caught the virus from humans. They say the strain is almost identical to the one that many Southlanders contracted.
It's something like a global game of viral ping-pong.
Scientists say the H1N1 virus originally spread from pigs to humans in Mexico, then traveled to Southern California and across the globe before finding its way to pigs in Africa.
Along the way the contagion sickened around 60 million people and killed more than 12,000.
Thomas Smith with UCLA was part of the team that detected the virus in African swine. He says flu epidemics in pigs can have dangerous consequences for humans down line.
"Swine, when it comes to influenza, can be mixing vessels for other strains," Smith says. "So they can get infected with other strains from birds, from chickens, from wild birds, etc. So these can mix and recombine into more serious forms."
UCLA's Smith says sick swine in Africa pose an extra threat because animals often roam free in villages rather than stay confined to farms. He and others are monitoring the situation in hopes of staving off a sequel to 2009's H1N1 pandemic.