Experts are keeping a close eye on a new strain of influenza emerging in China.
Scientists say the new strain of virus is carried by pigs and genetically similar to Swine Flu.
The new type of flu causes respiratory illnesses, and researchers say it is a candidate for the next viral pandemic if it mutates and spreads from person to person.
The strain, named G4 EA H1N1, thrives and multiplies in the cells that grow in the human airway.
It recently emerged in pigs but can infect humans too, according to new research published in a journal article.
The warning comes as the world remains in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic.
Global Covid-19 deaths have passed 500,000, with millions more cases diagnosed since it was first reported to have emerged in China in December.
The scientists wrote about the emerging influenza threat in the US journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, saying it had “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus.”
Similarly, animal-borne Covid-19 is believed to have originated at a ‘wet market’ selling wildlife for consumption in Wuhan, before the virus spread around the world.
They researchers also found evidence of recent infection with the new influenza virus originating with people who worked in abattoirs and the swine farming industry in China.
The virus is termed as a G4 genotype, which the researchers said had become predominant in swine populations since 2016.
The researchers urged “urgent” monitoring of pigs and people who came into contact with the new influenza strain.
Following the Swine Flu outbreak of 2009, that virus (called A/H1N1pdm09) is now covered by the annual flu vaccine.
Immunity and vaccines against seasonal influenza that are already common among human populations do not appear to protect people from the new G4 virus, the study warned.
Prof Kin-Chow Chang, who works at Nottingham University in the UK, told the BBC : “Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses.”
While this new virus is not an immediate problem, he added: “We should not ignore it”.
Cambridge University Veterinary Medicine department head Prof James Wood said the latest virus showed pathogens originating with farmed animals – with which humans have greater contact than with wildlife – could trigger future pandemics.
Daily Mirror online