Dealing with the outfall from Covid-19 is one of the top priorities in the coming year for Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) boss Ray Smith.
The discovery was announced in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.
Similar to the 2009 swine flu strain, the research claims the new strain ‘G4 EA H1N1’ has the ability to infect humans and spread globally.
According to the research, the viruses’ ability to infect humans is increasing. Such an increase indicates a growing opportunity for the virus to begin adapting and spreading in humans.
As a result, the authors of the research are calling for urgent systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in the pig sector as a measure to offer pre-warnings before pandemics.
“Similar to pdm/09 virus, G4 viruses have all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus. Of concern is that swine workers show elevated seroprevalence for G4 virus,
“Controlling the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in swine industry, should be urgently implemented,” says the research.
The research is based on influenza virus surveillance of pigs from 2011 to 2018 in China, including 30,000 swabs from pigs in Chinese abattoirs and 1,000 swabs from pigs with respiratory symptoms.
Whilst 179 virus strains were discovered, the G4 EA H1N1 strain was of immediate attention to the researchers.
The strain is distinct from current influenza vaccine strains, meaning that humans do not have immunity to it from existing seasonal influenza vaccines.
“While all of our focus has been on Covid-19, the other disease continues its march,” said former special trade envoy, Mike Petersen on Twitter this morning.
Dr Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, says that whilst the virus has pandemic potential, people should remain calm.
“What we should not do is freak out and expect that another flu pandemic is imminent. We should prepare for the flu pandemic that will come: maybe this fall, maybe not for another few years, but is inevitable,” she wrote on Twitter.
Rasmussen also noted that the research was based on only around 350 people and was not subject to rigorous standard peer review, with the senior author choosing his reviewers.