Coronavirus is in full swing, but could a new pandemic be looming?

Swine flu with 'pandemic potential' discovered in China

Research into an emerging strain of swine flu has revealed that the G4 influenza virus has characteristics that could make it a candidate for a future pandemic.

One of the viruses was G4 EA H1N1 which was later found to be highly contagious.

What was most concerning is that the researchers reckon it has the potential to become a pandemic if human transmission becomes a reality. That's despite the new strain being found in pigs in China.

Researchers in China say they have identified a new influenza strain in pigs that could be the next "potential pandemic". Two- It is also considered a novel virus, meaning people have little or no immunity to it.

According to blood tests, almost 10 per cent of the pig farm workers have already been infected. When that unlucky mix of factors happens, you can get a pandemic flu. Viruses, which are composed primarily of short bits of genetic material, can sometimes combine with other viruses and mix genetic material between them.

"We are constantly at risk of new emergence of zoonotic pathogens and that farmed animals, with which humans have greater contact than with wildlife, may act as the source for important pandemic viruses". Scientists obtained nasal swab samples from more than 30,000 slaughterhouse pigs and veterinary teaching hospitals across 10 China provinces. Their work demonstrated that, starting in 2016, a modified form of H1N1 - named "G4 EA H1N1" - became the dominant strain in these pigs.

While there is no evidence yet that G4 can spread from person to person, the study's authors fear a further mutation of the virus will allow humans to infect each other. "But we must not lose sight of potentially unsafe new viruses", Kin-Chow Chang of Nottingham University in the United Kingdom who was also not involved in the research tells the BBC. However, there is no evidence yet that it can be passed from human to human - the scientists' main worry.

Health authorities checking a plane in 2009 amid the swine flu pandemic.

What the world really doesn't need right now is another pandemic.

"G4 will be a completely new virus to humans if it starts to spread more widely", Jun Wang, an influenza expert at the University of Arizona, told Sixth Tone.

When multiple strains of influenza viruses infect the same pig, they can easily swap genes, a process known as "reassortment".

"What the paper does do is something important for the epidemiological community: it points to a virus that we need to be keeping a careful eye on", Bergstrom said.

So what's next? According to the PNAS team, measures exist that could greatly reduce the chance of a pandemic.

They said the newly identified virus is a growing problem in pig farms, adding that the widespread circulation of G4 viruses in pigs "inevitably increases their exposure to humans".