The expert explained that when all the factors are combined, along with some of the elements that could make it susceptible to being transmitted to humans, the possibility of a new pandemic similar to the 2009 swine flu, would be high. Scientists say that, while the world is distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it should not lose sight of this new and potentially risky virus, despite it not being deemed an immediate problem.
It possesses "all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus", the authors wrote, calling for measures to control the virus in pigs and closely monitor the situation. They analysed almost 30,000 nasal swabs taken from pigs at slaughterhouses in 10 provinces.
In a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers said that pigs have been increasingly infected with the virus G4 EA H1N1 in China, beginning in 2016. He added, "It also highlights we can not let our guard down on influenza and need to be vigilant and continue surveillance even in the coronavirus pandemic". "We just do not know a pandemic is going to occur until the damn thing occurs", Webster says, noting that China has the largest pig population in the world. Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington notes that "There's no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans, despite five years of extensive exposure", he said on Twitter.
"It is of concern that human infection of G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a human pandemic", researchers say in their PNAS study.
An annual flu vaccine protects Chinese from earlier known influenza viruses, which may have helped contain its spread from infected people.
Earlier, US physician and scientist Michael Greger warned that humanity faces a new "apocalyptic" virus, more risky than the coronavirus.
A study of around 340 swine workers, who came into contact with pigs as part of their work, showed that 10 per cent of the workers tested positive for the new influenza strain, G4 EA H1N1. This factor, combined with the irresponsible resistance to face masks and social distancing from some people, allows the virus to spread easily. However, the 2009 strain did not originate from animals as people contracted the virus from human to human.
"Pig farming is a massive industry in China and pigs can be important hosts from which novel influenza viruses may emerge", said James Wood, Head of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge.
The researchers then carried out various experiments - including on ferrets, which are widely used in flu studies because they experience similar symptoms to humans.