A study by two researchers from MIT says the virus has undergone mutation and needs further research
GN Bureau | March 12, 2015
Contradicting the claim by health authorities on swine flu virus, two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have reported that the current strain of the disease’s parent H1N1 virus has mutated to become more virulent.
The swine flu outbreak in India has taken lives of more than 1,400 people since December and it seems the disease is more dangerous than previously thought.
Ram Sasisekharan and Kannan Tharakaraman of MIT, compared the two influenza strains currently affecting the Indian population with the 2009 strain of H1N1 using their respective genetic sequences. They found mutations in the Indian strains in a protein called hemagglutinin, which binds with receptors on the human body’s respiratory cells. One of the mutations is linked to increased severity of the disease, while another enhances its infectiousness.
“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,” said Sasisekharan.
Sasisekharan is the Alfred H. Caspary Professor of Biological Engineering and the study has been published in the current issue of Cell Host and Microbe. Tharakaraman is a research scientist in the same department.
Sasisekharan pointed out that more surveillance is needed 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.
"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 said.
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