China has discovered yet another type of swine flu that can infect humans and has the potential to cause a future pandemic. Studies were released on Monday which said that scientists have confirmed that the virus does not pose an immediate global threat.
The disease which researchers called the G4 virus is said to have genetically descended from the swine flue (H1N1) that has caused a pandemic previously in 2009. G4 now shows “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” said the study, published in the scientific journal proceeding in the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
But Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University’s public health school asked the public to stay calm.
“Our understanding of what is a potential pandemic influenza strain is limited,” she tweeted. “Sure, this virus meets a lot of the basic criteria but it’s not for sure going to cause a hypothetical 2020 flu pandemic, or even be a dominant strain in humans.”
Chinese researchers from several institutions, including Shandong Agricultural University and the Chinese National Influenza Center, found out the G4 virus during a pig surveillance program. From 2011 to 2018, they collected more than 30,000 nasal swab samples from pigs in slaughterhouses and veterinary teaching hospitals across 10 Chinese provinces.
Out of the collected samples, the researchers identified 179 swine influenza viruses, but not all of them posed a concern. Some of them eventually declined to non-threatening levels
G4 already appears to have infected humans in China. In Hebei and Shandong provinces, both places with high pig numbers, more than 10% of swine workers on pig farms and 4.4% of the general population tested positive in a survey from 2016 to 2018.
“This is not a *new* new virus; it’s been very common in pigs since 2016. “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.
The researchers have still sent a warning in the papers that the virus was on the rise among pig populations, and could harm the human health if precautions were neglected.