While the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continues to ravage the globe, scientists already have identified a swine-flu strain that has the potential to become the next pandemic, a new study concludes.
The researchers examined some 30,000 pigs in Chinese slaughterhouses over four years and discovered an influenza that is a variant of the H1N1 virus that caused a deadly 2009-10 pandemic. That outbreak was brought to a halt when a vaccine was quickly developed for it. The scientists say the risk of a pandemic from this new strain appears to be low, but that health officials should remain vigilant.
Their peer-reviewed study, published this week in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that humans do not have immunity to the swine-flu strain, which the authors labeled G4 EA H1N1. “G4 viruses have all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” the scientists wrote.
The BBC reports that current flu-vaccine protocols likely “could be adapted” to protect against the new strain.
The study’s researchers urged “close monitoring” of Chinese slaughterhouse workers and encouraged health officials around the world to pay attention to the flu strain.
Nottingham University professor Kin-Chow Chang, who worked on the study, said in an interview that the new variant of the swine flu is not an immediate threat to human health. But, he added, “we should not ignore it.”
— Douglas Perry