According to the researchers, the virus — dubbed G4 EA H1N1 — is increasingly being carried by pigs and has the ability to infect humans. If the virus mutates further, researchers believe it could engage in human-to-human transmission and possibly start another global viral outbreak.
As reported by Science, Martha Nelson, an evolutionary biologist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center, said the virus is not likely to develop the ability to jump between humans.
“The likelihood that this particular variant is going to cause a pandemic is low,” she said.
Nevertheless, Nelson acknowledged the possibility and pointed out that the H1N1 strain was not known to spread to humans before the first human cases in 2009.
“Influenza can surprise us. And there’s a risk that we neglect influenza and other threats at this time.”
The virus is outlined in detail in a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Although the virus has yet to pose a significant threat, Prof Kin-Chow Chang and his team believe it should be closely watched.
“Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses,” he said.
“We should not ignore it.”
According to Science, the G4 virus is a blend of three lineages: the H1N1 strain behind the 2009 pandemic; a strain that resembles strains in European and Asian birds; and a North American H1N1 strain that contains genetic material from human, avian, and pig influenza viruses.
As noted by BBC, the Monday study found evidence of infections starting in abattoir workers and those in China’s swine industry, and current flu vaccines don’t appear to offer protection against it. However, the study claims that modern vaccines could be adapted to do so.
According to Nelson, the best path forward is to create a human vaccine for the G4 virus and add it to the stockpile.
“We need to be vigilant about other infectious disease threats even as COVID is going on because viruses have no interest in whether we’re already having another pandemic.”
As The Inquisitr previously reported, the 2009 swine flu created symptoms that included fever, coughing, lethargy, lack of appetite. Less common symptoms included sore throat, runny nose, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Researchers believe the 2009 strain originated in Mexico before spreading across the world.