File image used for illustrative purposes: A Saudi Arabian Health Ministry employee, right, is administered a swine flu vaccine during the launch of a swine flu vaccine campaign in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Even as the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, a modified flu strain has been discovered in a scientific study based out of China. The strain of flu virus spreading in Chinese pigs has shown it can also infect humans.

The discovery is troubling because this strain (version of H1N1), if humans get infected, has the potential to become a pandemic, given that humans seem to have no immunity to the effects of the virus.

The recently emerged genotype 4 (G4) reassortant Eurasian avian-like (EA) H1N1 virus was found after testing over 30,000 swabs from pigs across 10 provinces including from samples that displayed respiratory symptoms. The study was conducted over seven years, and discovered virus strains that predominantly were from a variant categorised as G4.

The G4 variant is concerning because its core is an avian influenza virus to which humans have no proven immunity. This is the reason why researchers have called for anticipatory vaccines and preparation against G4 swine flu viruses.

Called G4 EA H1N1, the swine flu strain bears genes similar to those in the virus that caused the 2009 flu pandemic, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research journal.

The surveillance showed that 10.4 per cent of swine workers were positive for G4 virus, especially for participants from 18 years to 35 years old, who had 20.5 per cent seropositive rates, indicating that the predominant G4 virus has acquired increased human infectivity.

The human infections indicate that the flu strain "possesses all of the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus" and that it poses "a serious threat to human health," the researchers concluded.

Zoonoses, diseases that jump from animals to humans, are one of the most common sources of dangerous new infections. Ebola, HIV, and the coronavirus itself are all examples of deadly pathogens that originated in animals.

As of Tuesday, the novel coronavirus has infected a total of 10,302,867 people globally, while the death toll stood at 505,518.

- Inputs from agencies