(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers in China have discovered a new type of swine flu that can cause a pandemic, according to a study published in the scientific journal PNAS.
Called G4, it is genetically derived from a strain of H1N1 that caused a pandemic in 2009.
It possesses “all the main signs of high adaptability to human infection,” say authors, scientists from Chinese universities and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
From 2011 to 2018, researchers took 30,000 swab smears from pigs in slaughterhouses in 10 provinces of China and at a veterinary hospital, which allowed them to isolate 179 swine flu viruses.
Most of them were of the new type that has dominated pigs since 2016.
Researchers then conducted various experiments, including ferrets, which are widely used in flu research because they experience symptoms similar to humans – mainly fever, cough, and nasal congestion.
G4 was found to be highly infectious, propagating in human cells and causing more severe symptoms in ferrets than other viruses.
Trials have also shown that any immunity that people get from seasonal flu does not provide protection against G4.
Thus, the virus is already being transmitted from animals to humans, but so far there is no evidence that it can be transmitted from humans to humans – the main concern of scientists.
“It is troubling that the G4 virus infection will increase the risks of causing a new pandemic,” the researchers write.
The authors called for urgent action to monitor people working in pig farms.
“This work serves as a useful reminder that we are constantly at risk for new zoonotic pathogens and that farm-raised animals with which people have more close contact than wild animals can serve as a source of pandemic viruses,” said James Wood , Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge.
Zoonotic infection is caused by a pathogen that is transmitted from animal to human.
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