Chinese scientists discover new strain of swine flu that could infect humans and cause pandemic

A group of Chinese researchers announced in a study published Monday the identification of a new strain of Chinese swine flu.

Scientists from the Asian country published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), a major multidisciplinary publication edited by the United States National Academy of Sciences.

In the article, it is stated that the discovered strain has the potential to infect humans and cause a new pandemic.

The study, led by scientist Liu Jinhua from the University of Agriculture of China (CAU), is based on about 30,000 samples taken from the respiratory tract of pigs between 2011 and 2018 in a dozen provinces of the Asian giant.

According to information provided by PNAS, another 1,000 swabs from pigs with respiratory symptoms processed at the CAU Veterinary Teaching Hospital were also analyzed.

The presence of 179 different swine flu viruses was determined from the samples obtained. In particular, the virus of the G4 strain shows "a strong increase since 2016 and that is the predominant genotype in circulation in pigs detected in at least 10 provinces."

G4 is a "unique" combination of three other strains, including H1N1, which underwent a mutation from pigs to humans and caused the 2009 flu pandemic, scientists say.

Sun Honglei, researcher at the CAU and first author of the article, said that the G4 could adapt and lead to transmission from person to person. "There is a need to strengthen surveillance" of Chinese pigs to detect influenza viruses, he added.

So far, two cases of human infection have been documented that led to the death of patients. In both cases, these were "dead-end infections" that were not transmitted to others.