Chinese researchers have discovered a new type of swine flu that can infect humans and has the potential to cause a future pandemic, according to a study released on Monday, though scientists have cautioned that the virus does not pose an immediate global health threat.
The disease, which researchers called the G4 virus, is genetically descended from the H1N1 swine flu that caused a pandemic in 2009. G4 nowshows “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” said the study, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Chinese pigs are frequently becoming infected with a strain of influenza that has the potential to jump to humans, according to infectious disease researchers.
Commenting on the development, Robert Webster, an influenza investigator who recently retired from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, US, said it is a “guessing game” as to whether this strain will mutate to readily transmit between humans.
“We just do not know a pandemic is going to occur until the damn thing occurs. China has the largest pig population in the world. Will this one do it? God knows,” an online Scientist magazine quoted Webster as saying.
In a report, BBC said researchers are concerned that the flu could mutate further so that it can spread easily from person to person, and trigger a global outbreak.
The world is yet to recover from the coronavirus pandemic which has infected over 10 million people globally.
The last pandemic flu the world encountered – the swine flu outbreak of 2009 that began in Mexico – was less deadly than initially feared, largely because many older people had some immunity to it, probably because of its similarity to other flu viruses that had circulated years before.
Kin-Chow Chang, a professor who works at Nottingham University in the UK, told the BBC: “Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses.
“While this new virus is not an immediate problem. We should not ignore it.”
The virus is a unique blend of three lineages: one similar to strains found in European and Asian birds, the H1N1 strain that caused the 2009 pandemic, and a North American H1N1 that has genes from avian, human, and pig influenza viruses.