Researchers in China have discovered a new strain of influenza in pigs that can be passed to people and has the potential to cause a future pandemic, according to a new study.
The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, details what researchers are calling the G4 virus. The virus is a blend of three strains: one found in European and Asian birds, one that caused the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009 and a North American H1N1.
The study found that G4 shows “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.”
Photos: The Global Coronavirus Outbreak
As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic that has caused more than 10 million infections and killed over half a million people, the threat of another pandemic is likely the last thing most want to hear.
However, researchers not involved in the study say it is too soon to panic.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University’s public health school, tweeted that “our understanding of what is a potential pandemic influenza strain is limited.”
“Sure, this virus meets a lot of the basic criteria but it’s not for sure going to cause a hypothetical 2020 flu pandemic, or even be a dominant strain in humans,” Rasmussen added.
The study did not find evidence that the virus can spread from human to human, though it could adapt to do so and, therefore, must be monitored in pigs, according to the study’s authors.
“The likelihood that this particular variant is going to cause a pandemic is low,” Martha Nelson, an evolutionary biologist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center, told Science.
Still, Nelson said that influenza “can surprise us,” adding that “there’s a risk that we neglect influenza and other threats at this time” of COVID-19.