A new strain of the influenza virus with the potential to cause a pandemic has been identified in the China, according to a new study.
This strain has recently emerged and has pigs as hosts, but it can infect humans, say the research authors.
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Scientists are concerned that it could mutate even more and spread easily from person to person and thus trigger a global outbreak. They say the strain has “all characteristics” of being highly adaptable to infect humans and needs to be monitored closely.
Since this is a new strain of the influenza virus, which causes the flu, people may have little or no immunity to it.
A new strain of influenza is among the main threats that experts are monitoring, even as the world still tries to end the current pandemic of the new coronavirus.
The last pandemic flu the world faced, the 2009 swine flu outbreak that started in Mexico, was less deadly than initially feared, mainly because many older people had some immunity to it, probably because of its similarity to others influenza viruses that had been circulating years before.
The swine flu virus, called A / H1N1pdm09, is now combated by the flu vaccine that is applied annually to ensure that people are protected.
The new strain of flu identified in China is similar to the 2009 swine flu, but with some changes. So far, it hasn’t posed much of a threat, but Professor Kin-Chow Chang and colleagues who study him say we should keep an eye on him.
The virus, which the researchers call G4 EA H1N1, can grow and multiply in the cells lining human airways. They found evidence of recent infection in people working in slaughterhouses and in the pork industry in China. Current flu vaccines do not seem to protect against this, although they can be adapted for this if necessary.
Kin-Chow Chang, who works at the University of Nottingham, UK, told the BBC: “Right now we are distracted by the coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses.”
Although this new virus is not an immediate problem, it says, “We must not ignore it”.
Scientists write in the Proceedings of the British National Academy of Sciences that measures to control the virus in pigs and closely monitor working populations should be implemented quickly.
Professor James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said the work “comes as a salutary reminder” that we are constantly at risk of the emergence of pathogens and that farm animals, with which humans have more contact than wildlife, can be a source of pandemic viruses.