Scientists in China have identified a new strain of a flu virus in pigs that has the potential to infect humans and lead to a new pandemic.
In a paper published in the U.S.-based journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists say the new “G4” strain was discovered during a surveillance program of pig farms and slaughterhouses across 10 provinces between 2011 and 2018.
The new virus is a variation of the H1N1 swine flu virus that killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world in 2009.
The scientists discovered the G4 virus has already infected workers at various farms and slaughterhouses throughout China. The new H1N1 strain can grow and quickly multiply in the cells that line the airways of humans, although there is no current evidence the illness can spread through human-to-human contact.
But the researchers also found that although G4 is derived from H1N1, current flu vaccines do not provide any immunity from the new virus.
The research paper said that G4 have all the “essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.” The scientists urged pig farmers to control the spread of the virus among pigs, and to closely monitor people who work with the animals.
The study’s release comes as the world is in the grips of COVID-19 pandemic which has sickened over 10.2 million people worldwide and killed over 500,000 since it was first detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan.