National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday warned that the U.S. needs to keep attention on a new strain of swine flu emerging from China that has the potential to become a pandemic — even as the U.S. is still recovering from an outbreak of coronavirus that began there.
Fauci was asked at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing about a new strain of H1N1 that scientists have identified and of which a study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Fauci said that the virus has not yet been shown to be infecting humans, but is exhibiting “reassortment capabilities” and that when there is a new virus that leads to a pandemic, it’s either due to mutations and/or a reassortment or exchange of genes.
“And they’re seeing a virus in swine ... now that have characteristics of the 2009 H1N1, of the original 1918 [influenza] – which many of our flu viruses have remnants of that in it – as well as segments from other hosts like swine,” he explained.
“When they all mix up together and contain some of the elements that might make it susceptible to being transmitted to humans, you always have the possibility that you might have another swine flu-type outbreak as we had in 2009,” he said.
“It’s something that’s still in the stage of examination, it’s not so-called an immediate threat where you’re seeing infections, but it’s something we need to keep our eye on just the way we did in 2009 with the emergence of the swine flu,” he said, before adding that the virus is called G-4.
According to The New York Times, the new strain has been common on Chinese pig farms since 2016 and replicates in human airways, but without causing disease.
“G4 viruses have all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” the study stated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that between April 2009 and April 2010, there were 60.8 million cases, more than 274,000 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths in the U.S. because of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak.
Fox News' Bradford Betz contributed to this report.