Genetic mutations linked to aggravated infection due to H1N1 influenza virus from India, have been detected by two Indian biologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The mutations may explain why India has experienced an intense H1N1 outbreak this year.
The MIT researchers have detected three mutations in two 2014 H1N1 virus samples from India. One enhances the ability of the virus to infect human respiratory tract cells, the second increases disease severity, the third helps the virus evade the effect of the H1N1 vaccine.
Prof Ram Sasisekharan, department of biological engineering, MIT, said, "These mutations are a potential cause for concern. It's really important to find out whether viruses with such mutations are currently circulating in India."
Sasisekharan and Kannan Tharakaraman, analysed two H1N1 genome sequences of the flu virus protein. Their analysis of the two 2014 H1N1 samples from India revealed mutations T200A which allows the virus to more efficiently bind to the cells in the human nose, throat and lungs and K166Q, which allows the virus to resist antibodies used in vaccines.
"We need a lot more effort in surveillance and more intensive sequence analysis of H1N1 strains circulating in India will help guide appropriate responses to the outbreaks," Sasisekharan said.
Manish Kakkar, a communicable diseases specialist at the Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, said, "Yes, we need intensive surveillance not just of flu but all communicable diseases, but the discovery of the mutations in two strains is not enough to explain the patterns of infection we are currently observing in India. We will need wider studies to explore correlation between disease features and sequences of viruses from patients in India."