Cambridge, 12 March 2015: According to the findings of MIT research team, which was published in the Cell Host & Microbe, March issue, directly contradicts Indian Health Official finding that the H1N1 virus, whose first case took place in 2009, is not mutating and remains the same. Since there have been over 1200 deaths in India so far due to the H1N1 virus, it becomes all the more important to learn more about this mutation
But the researches at MIT are being cautious as what they divulge. There is very little information about the new mutation, so it is being emphasized that a constant surveillance of the cases of H1N1 and providing with all the influenza strands would be helpful in combating this new influenza variant.
Since in India, only two strands of influenza virus have been uploaded in the influenza public database, it is hard to find which one is causing the outbreak and in which the mutation has taken place and how it varies from the previous ones.
According to Ram Sasisekharan, the Alfred H. Caspary Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT and the paper’s senior author, “We’re really caught between a rock and a hard place, with little information and a lot of misinformation.” He also puts emphasis on getting new strands, organizing them and determining what strategies can be used against this virus.
The researchers have found that the recent Indian influenza 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 power of the binding to those bindings will influence the level of harm done to the cells.
There are several other mutations such as an amino acid position called D225, which has been linked with elevated disease severity. Another mutation, in the T200A position, allows hemagglutinin to bind robustly to glycan receptors which in turn makes the influenza more hazardous.
Having said that, the biggest problem faced by India is that there is no accounting of which strains are responsible and none of the 20,000 cases that were reported in Gujarat and Rajasthan, no strands of the influenza have been collected.
Instead of giving cure after the disease has spread, it is necessary to have aggressive surveillance is being emphasized by Sasisekharan
“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 2016,” Sasisekharan says.
David Topham, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Rochester, agrees with Sasisekharan and believes that aggressive surveillance is the way to go.
“Western scientists are just not paying enough attention to what’s going on in such a large country as India. If anybody is collecting viruses and sequencing them, they’re not being entered into one of the more common databases where people can look at them. We are missing a big part of the puzzle,” says Topham, even though he was not involved in the research, raises some legitimate questions.
It is beneficial for India, to look into these concern and approach this for a newer angle as the problem has mutated, so should the solution.