Researchers in China say they have identified a new strain of swine flu that could be the next “potential pandemic”. The research, published for the first time in the scientific journal PNAS on Monday, details how the new flu strain is already infecting swine workers.
Pigs are often intermediate hosts or “mixing containers” for viruses that can develop. Taking this risk into account, Chinese researchers monitored pigs from 2011 to 2018 to study influenza viruses and be able to warn the public of any possible pandemic. .
The newly identified new flu strain, called G4 EA H1N1, could be one of them, the researchers said.
” Similar to [the virus that caused swine flu], G4 viruses have all the essential characteristics of a candidate pandemic virus, “the research said.
“Right now we are distracted by the coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses, “Kin-Chow Chang, one of the researchers and professor at the University of Nottingham, told the BBC.
The researchers found that the G4 viruses were able to bind to human receptors and could replicate in cells in the human respiratory tract. It has also been shown that the virus can be transmitted by aerosols.
The influenza A (H1N1) strain, often called swine flu, was the source of the first influenza pandemic of the 21st century in 2009. According to the World Health Organization, most cases were mild, but “Worldwide, the 2009 pandemic is estimated to have caused between 100,000 and 400,000 deaths in the first year alone. ”
A study of around 340 pig workers, who have come into contact with pigs in the course of their work, has shown that 10% of workers are positive for the new influenza strain G4 EA H1N1. People aged 18 to 35 had a positive rate of 20%.
“Such infectivity greatly improves the ability of the virus to adapt to humans and raises concerns about the possible generation of pandemic viruses,” the research said.
The researchers recommend that control of G4 EA H1N1 in pigs and its surveillance in humans, “especially workers in the pork industry”, be implemented as soon as possible.
Although the new virus is not yet a huge threat to humans, Chang told the BBC that “we shouldn’t ignore it.”