India’s swine flu virus may have mutated into more dangerous form: Report
NEW DELHI: Samples from India’s latest
swine flu outbreak, which has claimed more than 1,500 lives so far, suggest
that the virus may have mutated into a more dangerous strain, according to
researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The findings, published this month in
the journal Cell Host and Microbe, differ from statements by Indian officials
since the latest swine flu epidemic swept the country beginning in December,
leaving more than 20,000 affected.
Indian health officials have
maintained that the swine flu (H1N1) virus they have seen with this outbreak is
the same as what emerged in 2009 and has since been seen around the world.
In recent weeks, swine flu cases have
taxed hospitals across the country. Many citizens have donned masks in public
places, and public health department has launched campaigns to urge
hand-washing and other preventative measures.
One health official in the northern
state of Haryana recently suggests that Indians refrain from shaking hands and
instead greet each other with the traditional “Namaste” greeting, with hands
are folded together over the chest.
In the western state of Gujarat, one
of the worst hit with more than 300 deaths, officials banned public gatherings
of more than five people. Weddings and funerals were allowed to go on, but
attendees were asked to wear masks.
MIT researchers, working off
information in publicly sourced flu data bases, analyzed two strains from
India. The study showed new mutations in the protein known to make the virus
more virulent, according to the study.
“The point we’re trying to make is
that there is a real need for aggressive surveillance to ensure that the
anxiety and hysteria are brought down and people are able to focus on what they
really need to worry about,” the study’s co-author, Ram Sasisekharan, said in a
media release. “The goal is to get a clearer picture of the strains that are
circulating and therefore anticipate the right kind of a vaccine strategy for
But analysts in India have not seen
any evidence yet that the virus has mutated, according to Narendra Saini, a
doctor and secretary general of the Indian Medical Association.
Indian health officials said the flu
outbreak has been monitored through the country’s National Institute of
Virology and the National Centre for Disease Control. The country reports its
flu data to the World Health Organization’s global flu surveillance system.
Doctors and scholars said that MIT’s
findings suggests more study was necessary.
“You have to look at it in a larger context,”
said Dr. Manish Kakkar, the head of the communicable diseases unit for the
Public Health Foundation of India. “You can’t blame the entire seasonal
increase on two strains. You have to have much wider studies.”
He added: “The only message one can
draw is the need for greater surveillance. Not only swine flu, but other
communicable diseases.” As the weather warms, doctors say that the number of
cases are beginning to slow.
At the high point of the outbreak
earlier this winter, the 13 beds slated for swine flu patients at Fortis Flt Lt
Rajan Dhall Hospital in New Delhi were full with a waiting list, said Vivek
Nangia, a doctor there. On Thursday, they were empty.
Annie Gowen is The Post’s India
bureau chief and has reported for the Post throughout South Asia and the Middle