The new COVID-19? Kiwi experts weigh in on threat new flu virus detected in China poses

Kiwi experts say a newfound strain of influenza detected in China should be closely monitored, but says fears it'll cause a global pandemic akin to COVID-19 are "a little premature".

It comes as Chinese and British scientists claimed the virus - known as G4 EA H1N1 and so far only identified in pigs - has "all the hallmarks" of being highly adapted to humans and capable of triggering a global outbreak.

The research - published on Monday in scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - suggests Chinese pig farmers already show elevated levels of the virus, and close monitoring of them "should be urgently implemented".

But while there are concerns it could trigger a fresh global outbreak, Kiwi virologist Dr Jemma Geoghegan, a senior lecturer at the University of Otago, says it doesn't pose an immediate threat to humanity.

"The news that the next viral pandemic will be caused by a new virus found in pigs might be a little premature," Geoghegan told New Zealand's Science Media Centre.

"Pigs are important reservoir hosts for influenza viruses where multiple viruses might first 'mix' in pigs, creating new viruses that then jump to humans.

"There is no evidence that G4 is circulating in humans, despite the virus seemingly being around since 2016… [nor] that G4 poses an immediate threat to humans, but it is important to continue close monitoring and surveillance."

David Welch, a senior lecturer in computer science and computational evolution at Auckland University, agrees that the virus "definitely needs monitoring".

"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," Welch said.

"The main finding is that the dominant influenza strain currently circulating in pigs in China shows potential for human to human transmission - but it is basically impossible to say whether that will actually happen.

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

A lack of hygiene and animal feeds including hormones and steroids are likely to have contributed to "compromised immune systems and the potential of viruses to spread", Dr Alice Hughes, an Associate Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says.

COVID-19, another virus believed to have been transmitted to humans by animals, also originated in China.