MIT scientists have found that the recent circulating strains of H1N1 influenza in India carry new mutations in the hemagglutinin protein that are known to make the virus more virulent. Thus, the findings suggest that the swine flu outbreak in India could be more dangerous than previously thought.
India is battling with the swine flu epidemic since December 2014, and these new findings contradict reports from 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. However, the MIT report suggests that there are mutations in the hemagglutinin protein which 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.
Paper's senior author Ram Sasisekharan said, "Better surveillance was needed to track the outbreak and to help scientists to determine how to respond to this influenza variant, and to determine whether these mutations are present in the strain that is causing the current outbreak, which is most prevalent in the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan and has infected more than 20,000 people so far. Our goal is to get a clearer picture of the strains that have been circulating and therefore anticipate the right kind of a vaccine strategy for 2016."
The findings appear in Cell Host and Microbe.