Scientists have discovered a new strain of swine-borne flu in China, which they say could become a pandemic.
The new strain evolved from the type of flu known as “swine flu,” which arose in 2009, triggering the first global flu pandemic in 40 years.
On Monday, scientists published their peer-reviewed results in the US scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They said the new strain of flu, which they named “G4 EA H1N1,” is a type of swine flu that includes the “G4” genotype, which has become predominant in pig populations since 2016.
As in the case of swine flu, the new strain has been identified as having “all the main signs of a potential pandemic virus.”
Scientists who studied influenza viruses in a pig population between 2011 and 2018 noted that about 10% of the pig workers they tested in China were already exposed to the virus, which they called “troubling”. This rate increased among young workers aged 18-35, “which indicates that the predominant G4 EA H1N1 virus has acquired increased human infectivity.”
“Such infectiousness significantly expands the possibilities for the adaptation of the virus in humans and raises concerns about the possible generation of pandemic viruses,” say scientists working at several Chinese universities and the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They recommended careful monitoring of pig populations and all who work with them.
“It is urgent to monitor the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and conduct careful monitoring among the population, especially pig workers,” they write.
“Pigs are intermediate hosts for the generation of the pandemic influenza virus. Therefore, systematic surveillance of swine flu viruses is a key measure to prevent the next pandemic flu. ”
Although swine flu, first introduced in Mexico in 2009, is now regarded as one of many seasonal flu viruses. and is included in annual flu vaccinesAccording to scientists, any preexisting immunity “does not provide protection against G4 viruses.”
However, they wanted to emphasize that the virus is not an immediate problem.
Professor Kin-Chow Chang, one of the scientists involved in the study and working at the University of Nottingham in the UK, told the BBC that “so far this new virus is not an immediate problem … we must not ignore it.”
“Now we are distracted by the coronavirus, and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of the potentially dangerous new viruses. ”
Currently, influenza vaccines do not seem to protect against this, although they may be adapted if necessary, according to the BBC. To conduct their research, scientists conducted swine flu surveillance in 10 provinces of China from January 2011 to April 2018 and collected nearly 30,000 nasal swabs from slaughtered pigs, as well as more than 1,000 swabs from the nose or lung tissue in raised pigs with signs of respiratory disease.