Beijing In China, scientists have discovered a new type of swine flu that could trigger a pandemic. The G4 virus has “all the essential properties to infect humans”.
The researchers from several Chinese universities and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention wrote this in an article published on Monday in the US journal PNAS. G4 is derived from the H1N1 virus, which caused a pandemic in 2009.
Between 2011 and 2018, researchers took 30,000 swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses in ten Chinese provinces for the study. 179 different swine flu viruses could be isolated. Most of them were of a new species, which has increased in pigs since 2016.
The researchers then carried out experiments on ferrets, among others, which are used in flu studies because they have symptoms similar to those of humans. It was observed that G4 is highly infectious, multiplies in human cells and causes more severe symptoms in ferrets than other viruses.
Tests also showed that any immunity people gain from seasonal flu does not protect against G4. According to the scientists, 10.4 percent of the pig farmers were already infected. 4.4 percent of the population were also exposed to the virus, the researchers found through antibody tests.
The main concern of the scientists is that the virus can be transmitted from person to person. It is worrying that the virus adapts to humans and thus increases the risk of a pandemic in humans, the researchers wrote.
The study was “a reminder that we are constantly at risk of reoccurrence of zoonotic pathogens and that livestock with which humans have more contact than wild animals can serve as a source of important pandemic viruses,” said James Wood, director of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University in the UK. A zoonotic infection is caused by a pathogen that has jumped from an animal to a human.