Scientists have discovered in China a new strain of influenza that could potentially become a pandemic.
It appeared recently and is carried by pigs, but, according to them, it can infect people.
Researchers are worried that it may mutate further, to be easily transmitted from person to person and cause a global outbreak.
They say that this is not an urgent problem, but has “all the signs” of high fitness for infecting people and needs to be carefully monitored.
Because this is new, people could have little or no immunity to the virus.
Scientists write in a journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that measures to control the virus in pigs and close monitoring of pig workers should be quickly implemented.
The bad new strain of influenza is one of the main threats to the disease that experts are watching, even though the world is trying to put an end to the current coronavirus pandemic.
The latest flu pandemic the world has faced – the 2009 swine flu outbreak that began in Mexico – was less dangerous than originally feared, mainly because many older people had some immunity to it, probably because of it similarities with other flu viruses that have spread over the years. before.
This virus, called A / H1N1pdm09, is now covered by the annual flu vaccine to ensure that people are protected.
The new influenza strain detected in China is similar to 2009 swine flu, but with some new changes.
This is not a big threat so far, but Professor Kin-Chow Chang and colleagues who studied him say he needs to be watched.
The virus, which researchers call G4 EA H1N1, can grow and multiply in cells that line the human airways.
They found evidence of a recent infection among people who worked in slaughterhouses and pig breeding in China.
Modern flu vaccines do not appear to protect against this, although they can be adapted for this if necessary.
Professor Kin-Chow Chang, who works at the University of Nottingham in the UK, told the BBC: “Now we are distracted by coronavirus, and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of the potentially dangerous new viruses. ”
Although this new virus is not an immediate problem, he says: “We must not ignore it.”
Professor James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said that this work “is a useful reminder” that we are constantly at risk of new pathogens and those animals that are raised on farms that people have more close contact with than with wildlife, can serve as a source of important pandemic viruses.