Chinese researchers have discovered a new strain of the swine flu in pigs that could be transmitted to humans and believe it has “pandemic potential.” In a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers concluded that the new G4 EA H1N1 is a blend of the European and Asian birds, the H1N1 strain that was at the root of the 2009 pandemic.
Researchers analyzed swabs from pigs at slaughterhouses across ten provinces in China collected between 2011 and 2018. The results yielded 179 influenza viruses with a majority G4 virus. The researchers wrote, “G4 virus has shown a sharp increase since 2016, and is the predominant genotype in circulation in pigs detected across at least 10 provinces.”
“All of this evidence indicates that G4 EA H1N1 virus is a growing problem in pig farms, and the widespread circulation of G4 viruses in pigs inevitably increases their exposure to humans,” the researchers continued. Martha Nelson, an evolutionary biologist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center, told Science, “The likelihood that this particular variant is going to cause a pandemic is low.” Nelson also noted that there isn’t enough sampling to get conclusive results. “You’re really not getting a good snapshot of what is dominant in pigs in China,” she said.