According to a new study published on Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a strain of flu that's been found in pigs in China could have the ability to leap to humans and cause another pandemic. As such, researchers behind that study say the situation has to be closely monitored.
The new strain is called G4 EA H1N1, and researchers says it's a blend of a similar flu found in European/Asian birds, a North American H1N1, and the same swine flu strain that led to the 2009 pandemic.
G4 was identified after researchers collected and analyzed nearly 30,000 swabs from pigs across slaughterhouses in 10 separate Chinese provinces between the years 2011-2018. Out of those swabs, 179 swine influenza viruses were found, most of which were G4.
Summing up the report, The Hill writes that the G4 virus started to become more prevalent starting in 2016. The virus has shown up in at least two people, though it reportedly can't be spread from one person to another.
Researchers involved with the study are calling for farms and workers to be monitored out of fear that continued transmission could lead to the virus mutating to the point where it can transmit person-to-person and, thus, become another pandemic.
“All of this evidence indicates that G4 EA H1N1 virus is a growing problem in pig farms, and the widespread circulation of G4 viruses in pigs inevitably increases their exposure to humans,” those authors wrote. The BBC adds the concerns of researchers that fear the new strain has "all the hallmarks" of being able to adapt to the point where it can infect humans.
Now while you might be taking pandemics more seriously these days (which is good) it does not appear that there is yet any reason to panic. The Hill reports that other experts aware of the study denied there's any great risk that G4 becomes a pandemic.
“The likelihood that this particular variant is going to cause a pandemic is low,” said evolutionary biologist Martha Nelson to Science Mag. If you're asking yourself "well what exactly does she know," Nelson studies pig influenza viruses and (more relevantly to you, a human) how they spread to people.
“You’re really not getting a good snapshot of what is dominant in pigs in China,” Nelson added, saying more sampling is necessary.
Just hold it in the back of your brain for now.