Publish: 30 Jun 2020, 11:39 am
Scientists in China have identified a new strain of flu that is likely to become a pandemic.
According to the scientists, a new form of flu, borne by pigs, has recently appeared and can affect humans.
The researchers are concerned that it may further mutate so that it can spread easily from person to person and trigger a global outbreak.
While this is not an urgent concern, they say, it has "all the hallmarks" of being strongly evolved to infect humans and requires close supervision.
As it's new, people could have little or no immunity to the virus.
The scientists write in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that measures to control the virus in pigs, and the close monitoring of swine industry workers, should be swiftly implemented.
A bad new strain of influenza is among the top disease threats that experts are watching for, even as the world attempts to bring to an end the current coronavirus pandemic.
The world's last flu pandemic — the 2009 epidemic of swine flu that started in Mexico — was less devastating than originally expected, mostly because many elderly citizens had some exposure to it, possibly owing to its resemblance to other flu viruses that had spread years earlier.
That virus, called A/H1N1pdm09, is now covered by the annual flu vaccine to make sure people are protected.
The new flu strain that has been identified in China is similar to 2009 swine flu, but with some new changes.
So far, it hasn't posed a big threat, but Prof Kin-Chow Chang and colleagues who have been studying it, say it is one to keep an eye on.
The virus that researchers call G4 EA H1N1 may grow and multiply in cells that line human airways.
Evidence of recent diseases has been discovered, beginning with people employed in abattoirs and the pig industry in China.
Current flu vaccines do not appear to protect against it, although they could be adapted to do so if needed.
Prof Kin-Chow Chang, who works at Nottingham University in the UK, told the BBC: "Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses."
While this new virus is not an immediate problem, he says: "We should not ignore it."
Prof. James Wood, Head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said the study "comes as a salutary warning" that we are continuously at risk of new diseases and that farmed animals, with which humans have greater interaction than nature, may serve as a source of potential pandemic viruses.