New Flu Virus With ‘Pandemic Potential’ Discovered In China
A new strain of flu with ‘pandemic potential’ has been discovered in China.
Named G4, the virus emerged recently after being carried by pigs across the country. Researchers say it has genetically descended from the H1N1 strain of influenza that caused a pandemic in 2009.
While it has the potential to spread, it must be noted that there is no ‘imminent threat’. While it’s confirmed that humans can catch the virus from animals, there’s no official word on whether it can jump from person to person – a pressing question in terms of a ‘global outbreak’ akin to COVID-19.
Scientists from China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, alongside university researchers, wrote that G4 has ‘all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans’. Their findings were published by the U.S. journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
As pigs are considered to be ‘important hosts’ with regards to new influenza strains, the paper explains that ‘systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs is essential for early warning and preparedness for the next potential pandemic’.
Between 2011 and 2018, researchers took 30,000 nasal swabs from pigs all across China’s slaughterhouses. From here, they isolated 179 new swine flu viruses, with G4 emerging as particularly prominent since 2016.
A number of tests were performed to assess the severity of the strain (including some on ferrets, which are said to experience similar symptoms to humans). The research revealed that being exposed to seasonal flu doesn’t guarantee immunity from G4, and that more than one in 10 swine workers had already been infected.
The paper added that ‘close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented’, as ‘it is of concern that human infection of G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a human pandemic’.
However, the important aspect of this strain to remember is it doesn’t appear to be spreading among humans, as Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington, wrote on Twitter.
‘So are we facing the start of a double pandemic, COVID + influenza? Not immanently. There’s no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans, despite five years of extensive exposure. That’s the key context to keep in mind,’ he tweeted.
Nottingham University’s Professor Kin-Chow Chang also told BBC News that while we are rightly focused on the current outbreak, ‘we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses’.
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CreditsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and 2 others
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Carl T. Bergstrom/Twitter