Pigs in their pen on a farm on the outskirts of Chengdu, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, China, on August 2, 2005.
Peter Parks | AFP | Getty Images
Scientists have identified a new strain of swine-transported swine flu that they believe has the potential to become a pandemic.
The new strain descends from the type of flu ̵
Scientists released their peer-reviewed results on Monday in the U.S. scientific journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences. They said the new flu strain, which they called “G4 EA H1N1”, is a variation of swine flu and includes the “G4” genotype that has become predominant in swine populations since 2016.
As with swine flu, the new variety has been identified as “endowed with all the essential hallmarks of a pandemic virus candidate”.
Scientists, who studied influenza viruses in pig populations between 2011 and 2018, noted that about 10% of the pig industry workers tested in China had already been exposed to the virus, which they called “worrying “. This rate has increased among young workers, aged between 18 and 35, “indicating that the predominant G4 EA H1N1 virus has acquired greater human infectivity”.
“Such infectivity greatly increases the opportunity for adaptation of the virus in humans and raises concerns about the possible generation of pandemic viruses,” observed the scientists, who work in several Chinese universities and in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the country.
They recommended careful monitoring of pig populations and whoever works with them.
“Control of the prevalent G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, particularly workers in the swine industry, should be implemented urgently,” they wrote.
“Pigs are intermediate hosts for the generation of the pandemic influenza virus. Therefore, systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs is a key measure to prevent the appearance of the next pandemic influenza.”
While “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 shots, the scientists said that any immunity pre-existing to the population “does not provide protection against G4 viruses”.
They were keen to point out that the virus is not an immediate problem, however.
Professor Kin-Chow Chang, one of the scientists involved in the study and who works at Nottingham University in the United Kingdom, told the BBC that “while this new virus is not an immediate problem … we shouldn’t ignore it.”
“Right now we are distracted by coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses.”
Current flu vaccines don’t seem to protect it, although they can eventually be adapted if necessary, the BBC reported. To conduct their research, scientists carried out swine flu surveillance in 10 Chinese provinces between January 2011 and April 2018 and collected nearly 30,000 nasal swabs taken from pigs slaughtered from slaughterhouses, as well as over 1,000 nasal swabs or lung tissue. from pigs reared with signs of respiratory disease.