A new strain of flu that has the potential to become a pandemic was identified in China by scientists. According to a study in the US science journal PNAS, the new strain of the virus is carried by pigs but can infect humans as well, although experts said there is no imminent threat.
Although not an immediate threat, researchers are concerned that it could mutate further and can spread easily from person to person thus triggering a global outbreak. Researchers have further stated that it has "all the hallmarks" of being highly adapted to infect humans and needs close monitoring.
As per reports by The Guardian, the virus named G4 is genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009. G4 was observed to be highly infectious, replicating in human cells and causing more serious symptoms in ferrets than other viruses do.
Tests also showed that any immunity humans gain from exposure to seasonal flu does not provide protection from G4. More than one in 10 swine workers in the new study had already been infected, according to antibody blood tests which showed exposure to the virus.
The World Health Organization (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.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news conference on Tuesday that China was closely following developments. "We will take all necessary measures to prevent the spread and outbreak of any virus," he said.
With the world already battling the deadly coronavirus, researchers are highly concerned with the possibility of an outbreak again. "It is of concern that human infection of G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a human pandemic," the researchers wrote.
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