A new flu virus found in Chinese pigs has become more infectious to humans and needs to be watched closely in case it becomes a potential “pandemic virus”, a study said, although experts said there is no imminent threat.
A team of Chinese researchers looked at influenza viruses found in pigs from 2011 to 2018 and found a “G4” strain of H1N1 that has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus”, according to the paper, published by the US journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Pig farm workers also showed elevated levels of the virus in their blood, the authors said, adding that “close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented”.
The study highlights the risks of viruses crossing the species barrier into humans, especially in densely-populated regions in China, where millions live close to farms, breeding facilities, slaughterhouses and wet markets.
The current coronavirus sweeping the world is believed to have originated in horseshoe bats in southwest China and could have spread to humans via a seafood market in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first identified.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) will read the Chinese study carefully, spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a Geneva briefing on Tuesday, saying it was important to collaborate on findings and keep tabs on animal populations.
“It also highlights we cannot let our guard down on influenza and need to be vigilant and continue surveillance even in the coronavirus pandemic,” he added.