Guwahati: With the entire world firmly in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 5 lakh worldwide, it seems like there is another cause for worry as a swine flu with pandemic potential has recently surfaced in China.
The virus, nicknamed G4, has descended from the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009. The 20019 pandemic lasted for about 19 months, from January 2009 to August 2010, and was the second of two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus (the first being the 1918–1920 Spanish flu pandemic).
Authors of a study published in the US science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said that this new flu possesses all the essential hallmarks of being highly adapted in infect humans.
From a period between 2011-2018, researchers took 30,000 nasal swabs from pigs in slaughterhouses across China and in a veterinary hospital, leading to the isolation of 179 swine flu viruses. Most of these were of a new kind, dominant among pigs since 2016.
Experiments were then conducted on ferrets that experience human-like symptoms such as fever, coughing, and sneezing. The scientists have concluded that the G4 is "highly infectious", showing tendencies of replicating in human cells. Additionally, it caused more serious symptoms in ferrets than other kinds of viruses.
Researchers also discovered that the immunity from seasonal flu through exposure does not provide any protection whatsoever from G4.
Blood tests revealed that 10.4% of swine workers have already been infected, and 4.4% of the general population has also been affected.
Scientists have come to the conclusion that it has already passed from animals to humans. However, there is no evidence to suggest that it can also transmit from human to human.
The researchers wrote that it is concern that human infection of the G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a pandemic.
James Wood, the head of the department of veterinary medicine at Cambridge University has commented that the work comes as a reminder that humankind is constantly at risk of new zoonotic (animal to human) pathogens and that farmed animals may act as a source of a greater source of pandemic viruses.