A new US study suggests India’s swine flu virus has mutated, possibly becoming deadlier than a previous strain, but Indian scientists rejected the report on Thursday, saying the findings were based on old virus data and not samples from the current outbreak.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report that appeared in the March 11 issue of the journal Cell Host & Microbe says the strain has changed from the version of H1N1 that emerged in 2009 and spread worldwide.
However, the Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV), India’s premier virology research institute that has done studies on virus samples from this year’s outbreak, found no mutations. “The genetic analysis of the HA gene of the H1N1 isolates from the present 2015 outbreak do not show any such mutations as mentioned in the publication,” the NIV said.
Tests at the US federal lab, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), back the NIV findings. “Subsequent report on antigenic/genetic analysis of this H1N1 virus by CDC/WHO as communicated to NIV also did not mention/report any oseltamivir resistance or any other genetic changes in HA genes that could be virulent markers,” says a CDC report with the NIV.
India faces an H1N1 outbreak in which 1,600 people have died and nearly 28,000 are infected in 2015.
Indian-origin MIT researchers Ram Sasisekharan and Kannan Tharakaraman compared the genetic sequences of those two variants from 2013 to the H1N1 strain that surfaced in the US and killed more than 18,000 people around the world between 2009 and 2012.
“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,” Sasisekharan said.