A strain of swine flu that scientists fear has the potential to become a pandemic in humans has been identified in China.

According to a report from the BBC, researchers are concerned the flu could mutate and easily spread from person to person. Right now, it’s carried by pigs but could infect humans, according to scientists.

Experts say this strain has “all the hallmarks” of adapting to impact the human population. With it being a newer virus, people would likely have little to no immunity.

“We just do not know a pandemic is going to occur until the damn thing occurs,” Robert Webster, an influenza investigator, told Science Magazine. “Will this one do it? God knows.”

The virus, which the researchers call G4 EA H1N1, can grow and multiply in the cells that line the human airways.

They found evidence of recent infection in people who worked in abattoirs and the swine industry in China when they looked at data from 2011 to 2018.

Current flu vaccines do not appear to protect against it, although they could be adapted to do so if needed.

Prof Kin-Chow Chang, who works at Nottingham University in the UK, told the BBC: “Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses.”

While this new virus is not an immediate problem, he says: “We should not ignore it.”

In theory, a flu pandemic could occur at any time, but they are still rare events. Pandemics happen if a new strain emerges that can easily spread from person to person.

Although flu viruses are constantly changing – which is why the flu vaccine also needs to change regularly to keep up – they do not usually go pandemic.

Prof James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said the work “comes as a salutary reminder” that we are constantly at risk of new emergence of pathogens, and that farmed animals, with which humans have greater contact than with wildlife, may act as the source for important pandemic viruses.