A new strain of swine flu that has the potential to cause another pandemic has been labelled “very, very dangerous” and a “salutary reminder” that humans are constantly at risk of new diseases jumping the species barriers from animals.
However, Chinese media have played down concerns with warnings not to “overreact”. That’s despite the new strain being found in pigs in China.
Yesterday it was revealed Chinese researchers had found a new and concerning strain of swine flu.
Named genotype 4, or G4, it is genetically descended from the H1N1 swine flu strain that caused a pandemic in 2009.
It possesses “all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted to infect humans,” said scientists at Chinese universities and China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
Over a period of seven years, researchers took thousands of swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses in Chinese provinces and a veterinary hospital, allowing them to isolate 179 swine flu viruses.
The majority were of a new kind which has been dominant among pigs since 2016.
The G4 virus was observed to be highly infectious, replicating in human cells and causing more serious symptoms in ferrets – which experience similar symptoms to humans – than other viruses.
It claimed that the H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009 was predicted to infect 600 million people but was only contracted by 60 million.
However, the US Centres for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) has estimated 60 million people were infected in America alone. By some estimates more than 1 billion people worldwide contracted H1N1 and more than half a million may have died.
The Global Times said a veterinary medicine expert “close to the G4 research team” said the new virus was similar to swine flu and was “preventable”.
The unnamed person said while G4 had the potential to jump to humans, “the chance of human-to-human transmission is minor”.