Scientists in China say the strain, which emerged recently, is carried by pigs but can infect humans. A study of the new virus was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers say the virus has “all the hallmarks” of being highly adapted to spread from person to person and trigger a global outbreak.
Given that it’s a new development, people will likely have little to no immunity.
Professor Kin-Chow Chang and his colleagues at Nottingham University say they are closely monitoring this new strain, which they are calling G4 EA H1N1.
The new strain, of which they found evidence among people who work in Chinese slaughterhouses, can grow and multiply in the cells lining human airways.
Kin-Chow told the BBC: “Right we are distracted with coronavirus, and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses.”
The last swine flu pandemic began in Mexico in 2009 but was not as deadly as initially feared. Many older people had some immunity to it because it was similar to older strains.
Robert Webster, an influenza investigator, told Science magazine it’s “a guessing game” if the new virus will evolve to transmit between humans.
“We just do not know a pandemic is going to occur until the d--n thing occurs,” he said. “Will this one do it? God knows.”