Chinese scientists have discovered a new type of influenza which may cause a global pandemic, a new study showed.
The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), showed that the new strain, G4, is similar to "swine flu," or H1N1.
Swine flu caused an outbreak in 2009 and was included in the 2019-2020 season's "flu shot."
According to the study, G4 is becoming more prevalent in pigs, but has not yet made the jump to humans. It is a blend of the H1N1 strain which caused the 2009 outbreak, an H1N1 strain from North America with genes from human, avian, and pig influenza viruses, and a strain found in European and Asian birds. Scientists are mainly concerned due to the virus' avian flu component, which humans have no immunity to.
Scientists noted that there is no way to know whether, or when, the virus will begin to affect humans, until it actually happens. However, study author Sun Honglei noted that G4's genes from the strain of H1N1 which caused the outbreak "may promote the virus adaptation" to allow for human-to-human transmission.
In addition, existing vaccines do not provide immunity to G4.
Science quoted Edward Holmes, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney who studies pathogens, as saying that, "From the data presented, it appears that this is a swine influenza virus that is poised to emerge in humans. Clearly this situation needs to be monitored very closely."
Prof Kin-Chow Chang of Nottingham University told BBC: "Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses."