Washington, March 12: Swine flu - influenza A (H1N1) pandemic 2009 virus - that has killed over 1,500 people and left more than 27,000 people infected in India has acquired mutations that make it more dangerous than previously circulating strains of H1N1 influenza, a team of Indian-origin scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has discovered.
The findings, reported in the scientific jourl Cell Host & Microbe, contradict previous reports from the Indian health officials that the strain has not changed from the version of H1N1 that emerged in 2009 and has been circulating around the world ever since. The flu virus in India seems to have acquired mutations that could spread more readily and, therefore, requires deeper studies, they warn. “We are really caught between a rock and a hard place, with little information and a lot of misinformation,” said Ram Sasisekharan, the Alfred H Caspary professor of biological engineering at the MIT and the paper’s senior author.
“When you do real-time surveillance, get organised and deposit these sequences, then you can come up with a better strategy to respond to the virus,” he added. To reach this conclusion, Sasisekharan and MIT research scientist Kann Tharakaraman compared the genetic sequences of those two strains to the strain of H1N1 that emerged in 2009 and killed more than 18,000 people worldwide between 2009 and 2012. The researchers found that the recent Indian strains carry new mutations in the hemagglutinin protein that are known to make the virus more virulent. Hemagglutinin binds to glycan receptors found on the surface of respiratory cells and the strength of that binding determines how effectively the virus can infect those cells. (ians)