Scientists should seek vaccine now for new flu strain with potential to be next pandemic - academic

A Kiwi researcher says it makes sense for vaccine preparations to be made for the new flu virus detected in China. 

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Scientists have identified another emerging flu virus that poses "the risk of a human pandemic" in China, as the world continues to battle Covid-19. 

The G4 EA H1N1 virus, or G4, is similar to the H1N1 swine flu which swept the world in 2009, according to the paper published today in the journal PNAS.

David Welch of the University of Auckland's School of Computer Science says the research is interesting and "definitely needs monitoring".

As far as vaccinations go, the current influenza vaccine doesn't appear to cover the newly identified G4 virus and people don't have immunity for it.

Despite there being no immediate risk of a pandemic, or human-to-human spread, Dr Welch says it makes sense for a vaccine to get underway. 

Another flu virus detected in China that poses risk of pandemic

"The main finding is that the dominant influenza strain currently circulating in pigs in China shows potential for human to human transmission (based on animal models).

"It would make sense to continue to monitor this closely, and to make preparations for a vaccine for this strain - these measures have both been suggested elsewhere," says Dr Welch. 

But, he also says it is "basically impossible" to say whether it will actually spread to humans. 

"Predicting these things is very hard. Lots of viruses cross the animal human barrier but very few take hold in the human population."

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More than 10 million people have now been infected with coronavirus six months after China reported the first cases in Wuhan. Source: 1 NEWS

Dr Jemma Geoghegan, virologist and senior lecturer at University of Otago, also says it's important to monitor the new strain but stresses that it has only been found in pigs so far, not humans. 

"There is no evidence that G4 poses an immediate threat to humans but it is important to continue close monitoring and surveillance," says Dr Geoghegan.

"Pigs are important reservoir host for influenza viruses where multiple viruses might first 'mix' in pigs, creating new viruses that then jump to humans. However, the news that the next viral pandemic will be caused by a new virus found in pigs might be a little premature."