Scientists have warned swine flu could soon reach pandemic levels as genetic testing of Chinese pigs show early signs of strains emerging.
Farms in China have shown genes “similar to swine flu ‘09 virus,” present in livestock throughout the county.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said the virus has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” which could emerge at the same time as a second coronavirus wave.
Theresa MacPhail, a medical anthropologist and Assistant Professor at Stevens Institute of Technology, told VICE the Chinese government regularly checks chicken farms and pigs to see “if there are any potential problems.”
Ms McPhail told VICE: “So what we’re seeing a little bit is what public health is constantly doing.
“In China, government officials regularly sample birds on duck and chicken farms and pigs on pig farms and all the workers who work there for this reason: to see what strains are in circulation to see if there are any potential problems.
“So that’s what you’re seeing is this particular strain has been in circulation for a while.”
She added that there is cause for worry, but there is no need to panic, as sounding the alarm “this early is a sign that the system is working as intended.”
If an outbreak of swine flu were to emerge, Katherine Mason, a medical anthropologist and an assistant professor at Brown University, said the world would be prepared for it in the way it wasn’t for coronavirus.
She told VICE: “Everyone always thought the next pandemic was going to be an influenza pandemic.
“Every year you get news of some new strain of flu … scientists have spent a lot of time and resources trying to be able to anticipate the flu, which is partly why Covid-19 caught people off guard.”
Nidia Trovao, a virologist at the National Institute of Health, said she’s watching the new H1N1 strain but isn’t particularly worried about it as the virus has only made the jump from human to pig in workers in close proximity to infected animals.
She said: “The big evolutionary hurdle is for the virus to gain the capacity for human to human transmission.”