Researchers find new strain of swine flu in China with pandemic potential

According to the study pig farm workers showed elevated levels of the new virus in their blood

According to the study pig farm workers showed elevated levels of the new virus in their blood

If you didn't have enought to worry about with the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists in China have just discovered a new strain of the flu that could become the next pandemic.

"The main finding is that the dominant influenza strain now circulating in pigs in China shows potential for human to human transmission (based on animal models)". With that risk in mind, researchers in China surveilled pigs from 2011 to 2018 to study influenza viruses and be able to warn the public about any upcoming pandemic sources.

The virus, known as G4, is a descendant of the H1N1 strain that originated in Mexico and caused a worldwide epidemic in 2009.

Writing in the American journal, PNAS, researchers said the strain possesses "all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans". Therefore, "It's necessary to strengthen the surveillance" of Chinese pigs for influenza viruses, says Sun, also at CAU.

The researchers said G4 viruses bind to human-type receptors, produce much higher progeny virus in human airway epithelial cells, and show efficient infectivity and aerosol transmission in ferrets.

The scientists report that the new strain (G4) has descended from the H1N1 strain that was responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic.

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Influenza viruses frequently jump from pigs to humans, but most do not then transmit between humans.

"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". This was the case due to many elderly people were immune to the virus.

While it has transferred from pigs to humans, it has yet to show it can transfer from human to human, with researchers warning that should this happen, it will have the potential to cause a human pandemic.

It's still unclear how lethal the G4 virus might be to humans, partly because infections so far have been sporadic.

However, there has not yet been evidence it can be transmitted from one person to another - as of yet though it can be infected from animals to humans.

"It would make sense to continue to monitor this closely, and to make preparations for a vaccine for this strain - these measures have both been suggested elsewhere", says Dr Welch. "Making the seed stock is not a big deal, and we should have it ready", Webster says. "We need to be vigilant about other infectious disease threats even as COVID is going on because viruses have no interest in whether we're already having another pandemic".

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