Word out of China is that researchers may have discovered a new type of swine flu. The new flu is considered so virulent that it is believed to be capable of triggering a new pandemic. This, according to the US science journal PNAS, which published the study on Monday.
Having been given the designation of G4, this new flu is showing as genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that triggered the swine flu pandemic of 2009. The authors of the study, connected to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China, said: "It possesses all the hallmarks of being highly adaptable to infect humans."
The researchers took nasal swabs from 2011 up until 2018 totaling 30,000 in all. They were obtained from pigs in various slaughterhouses in 10 different Chinese provinces. There were also swabs collected from a veterinary hospital, and in the end, they were able to determine up to 179 strains of swine flu present.
The majority found were those of a new strain that has been seen to be dominant in the pigs since as far back as 2016. The research was then taken to include ferrets. Ferrets are widely used in the research of flu viruses, as they are prone to exhibiting the same symptoms as those of humans—notably fever, coughing, and sneezing.
The data obtained showed that the G4 virus appeared to be highly infectious, rapidly replicating in human cells as well as causing potentially more severe symptoms in ferrets than other such infections. The data also showed that even though an individual had immunity from the seasonal flu, it did not mean that they would benefit from any form of protection from G4.
When swine workers were given a blood test, and antibodies were present indicating exposure to G4, it proved that 10.4 percent of those workers had already contracted and been infected with the virus. Data also showed that an estimated 4.4 percent of the general population showed to have already been exposed as well.
These results proved that G4 had already been able to pass from animals to humans. However, there was no current evidence that it had moved from human to human as of yet—which is currently the main worry. The researcher's notes expressed this worry: “It is of concern that human infection of G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a human pandemic.”
When asked on Tuesday about the virus and its development, a spokesman for the Chinese government assured that they were paying close attention to the infection and its development, and all actions would be taken to prevent both its spread or any potential outbreaks.
Will this newly acknowledged flu be our next worldwide pandemic?