A new strain of swine flu that is capable of becoming a pandemic has been identified by researchers in China, The Guardian reported.
Writing in the US science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists have said that the new strain, called G4 EA H1N1, genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that had triggered a pandemic in 2009.It has “all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans”, the scientists at Chinese universities and China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Even though it hasn’t posed a big threat so far, it is important to constantly monitor it, as experiments using nasal swabs from pigs have shown G4 could be highly infectious in ferrets, who experience similar symptoms as humans.
The researchers were able to isolate 179 swine flu viruses in pigs from 2011 to 2018, but G4 was found to be dominant since 2016.
A concerning finding was that more than one in 10 swine workers had already been infected with it. Antibody blood tests also showed that around 4.4% of the general population also could have been exposed, the report stated. There is no evidence yet that it can pass from human to human contact.
Prof Kin-Chow Chang, who works at Nottingham University in the UK, told the BBC,Kin-Chow Chang“Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses.”
James Wood, head of the department of veterinary medicine at Cambridge University, said: “The work comes as a salutary reminder that we are constantly at risk of new emergence of zoonotic pathogens and that farmed animals – with which humans have greater contact than with wildlife – may act as the source for important pandemic viruses.”
While the new strain may not be an immediate threat, people working closely with swine must be closely monitored.