New swine flu infecting humans could be the next pandemic, scientists warn

Nasal swabs from more than 30,000 Chinese pigs over 7 years found an increase in an avianlike influenza virus that has swapped genes from several strains. HONGLEI SUN

Chinese scientists have discovered a new swine flu which possess the characteristic of becoming a pandemic, according to a study published Monday in the United States science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study identified the new type of swine flu as G4. The main carrier of this flu is by pigs but can also infect humans. Researchers identified it as genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009.

The researchers argue that the new flu has “all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans” and requires close monitoring.

Scientists at Chinese universities and China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified the new virus after taking 30,000 nasal swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses in 10 Chinese provinces between 2011 and 2018, allowing them to isolate 179 swine flu viruses.

They found the new strain, which has been predominant among pigs since 2016.

Further studies have been conducted since then including on ferrets as they experience similar symptoms to humans such as fever, coughing and sneezing.

The new strain of G4 has proved to be highly infectious, replicating in human cells and creating more serious symptoms in ferrets than other viruses.

Moreover, the authors of the study identified that immunity humans gain during seasonal flu doesn’t provide protection from G4.

Researchers have found that the virus can pass from animals to humans, but it’s unknown if it can be passed from human to human.

“It is of concern that human infection of G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a human pandemic,” the researchers said.

GHM News