Scientists have identified a new strain of flu carried by pigs in China that they claim has the potential to become a new pandemic. The new strain of the virus descended from the type of flu, known as “swine flu”, that emerged in 2009 causing the first global flu pandemic in 40 years, CNBC informs.
The findings were published in the U.S. science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. The scientists said the new strain of flu, which they called “G4 EA H1N1,” is a variation of swine flu. It includes the “G4″ genotype that has become predominant in swine populations since 2016.
The scientists, who studied flu viruses in pig populations between 2011 and 2018, highlighted that around 10% of swine industry workers they tested in China had already been exposed to the virus, which they described as “of concern.”
That rate increased among younger workers, aged 18-35, “indicating that the predominant G4 EA H1N1 virus has acquired increased human infectivity,” CNBC adds.
“Such infectivity greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses,” wrote the scientists, who work at several Chinese universities and the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
They also recommended close monitoring of swine populations and anyone working with them.
“Controlling the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in swine industry, should be urgently implemented,” they wrote. “Pigs are intermediate hosts for the generation of pandemic influenza virus. Thus, systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs is a key measure for prewarning the emergence of the next pandemic influenza.”
The “swine flu,” which first emerged in Mexico in 2009, is now seen as one of a variety of seasonal flu viruses and is included in annual flu vaccines. The scientists added that any preexisting population immunity “does not provide protection against G4 viruses.”