In India, everybody knows what swine flu is. The deadly virus which has spread at an alarming rate in many parts of the country, has given sleepless nights to many. Access a public place and you will notice the negative impact it has had on the lives of people of our nation. Ways of greetings like hugs and handshakes have made way for Namaste and Hi’s from a safe distance. Face masks have turned into a fashion accessory. People can be spotted whiffing Kapoor time and again. Precaution is better than cure is the funda and mantra people seem to be swearing by and rightly so. But unfortunately the virus doesn’t seem ready to accept defeat and is unwilling to subside.
Swine Flu has killed close to 1500 hapless people December onwards and if a recent report of the prestigious MIT is to be believed then the virus seems to have gained mutations and has become even more deadly than the virus that was circulating before. This recent study downright contradicts previously published reports by officials of Indian Health association which stated that the virus had not changed from the year 2009.
MITs esteemed researchers recently found that the recent Indian strains of the virus carry new mutations in the hemagglutinin protein which are known to make the virus even more virulent. Hemagglutinin tends to bind to the all important glycan receptors found on the surface of respiratory cells and the hardiness and strength of that binding determines how effectively the virus can infect those cells. In the last two years or so, genetic sequence information of the flu-virus protein hemagglutinin from only two influenza strains from India has been deposited into publicly available influenza databases, which make it somewhat difficult to gauge the severity of the problem and determine exactly which strain is causing the latest outbreak and how it differs from the previous strains. However, these two new found strains have yielded enough information to warrant some serious concern.
MIT researchers seems to have thoroughly compared the genetic sequences of those two strains (of the 2014 outbreak) to the strain of H1N1 which emerged and surfaced for the first time in 2009 and killed more than 18,000 people all around the world between the years 2009 and 2012. One of the new mutations to surface is present in an amino acid position known as D225, which has previously been linked with the increased disease severity, researchers pointed out. Another mutation that has been found, in the T200A position allows hemagglutinin to bind more strongly to glycan receptors, making the virus more deadly and infectious, the study found out.
Thus more round the clock and vigilant surveillance is required to determine whether these mutations are present or not in the strain that is causing the current severe outbreak, which is most prevalent in Gujarat, Delhi-NCR, AP and Rajasthan and has infected more than 20,000 people thus far. In the mean time, in New Delhi health ministry officials have pointed out that they will take up the impending issue with the trustworthy Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) since the latter has been saying till now that there have not been any mutations whatsoever.
According to the latest statistics from the UHM – Union health ministry data, as of March 10 2015, as many as 1,537 patients have died due to swine flu while the number of infected people in the country is close to 27,234. Therefore it is of paramount importance that the health authorities address these concerns and are able to control its outbreak as early as possible.